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DEGREE PROJECT IN TECHNOLOGY AND ECONOMICS,
SECOND CYCLE, 30 CREDITS
STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN 2017

Gender Diversity in the
Workforce and New Firms'
Capacity to Innovate
Insights into Tech start-up teams
DESPOINA TSIOUGKOU

KTH ROYAL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
SCHOOL OF INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING AND MANAGEMENT

Gender Diversity in the Workforce and
New Firms’ Capacity to Innovate
Insights into Tech start-up teams

Despoina Tsiougkou

Master of Science Thesis INDEK 2017:145

KTH Industrial Engineering and Management
Industrial Management
SE-100 44 STOCKHOLM

Master of Science Thesis INDEK 2017: 145

Gender Diversity in the Workforce and
New Firms’ Capacity to Innovate
Insights into Tech start-up teams

Despoina Tsiougkou
Approved

Examiner

Supervisor

2017-09-26

Anders Broström

Kristina Nyström

Abstract
The present thesis examines the relationship between innovation and gender diversity
in the workforce, through the lens of new firms in the Stockholm Tech start-up
ecosystem. Taking a point of departure in a knowledge-based understanding of
innovation and firm dynamics, the study explores the relationship between gender and
innovation at the firm level. First, the theoretical framework is built on relevant
literature and empirical research in a multidisciplinary fashion. Then, a qualitative
inquiry is designed with the aim of contributing to the growing research corpus in the
intersection of gender diversity and firm capacity to innovate. Employing a qualitative
interviewing method, data was collected among founders and founding team members
of entry-level tech start-ups in Stockholm. The objective was to document how
founders and entrepreneurs, in general, approach gender diversity when building their
start-up teams. The analysis reveals that gender diversity, albeit acknowledged as an
input to innovative performance, is not prioritized over other human capital aspects,
such as talent. This is in line with the bulk of literature that studies the diversity in
knowledge base and firm performance, hence highlighting the cognitive aspects of
innovation process. The thesis findings are of considerable benefit both for
broadening the extant approach to innovation process and for understanding gender
diversity dynamics in the workforce.

Key-words: Innovation, Gender Diversity, Start-up, Tech Industry, Stockholm.

ii

Acknowledgements
First, I would like to thank my thesis supervisor, Associate Prof. Kristina Nyström,
for her guidance and encouragement during this degree project.
I would also like to thank Anna Isoz, coordinator at KTH Innovation, who kindly
suggested several start-up co-founders to interview for the purpose of data collection
within my qualitative research. All interview participants are gratefully acknowledged
for their contribution with valuable insight and reflections upon the topics of interest
discussed.
Finally, I would like to express my most profound gratitude to my parents, siblings,
close friends and dear D. for their restless support and motivation to create order out
of chaos.

Despoina Tsiougkou
Stockholm, September 2017

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945)

iii

TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABSTRACT

II

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
1

III

INTRODUCTION

1

1.1

Background

1

1.2

Research Questions

2

1.3

Sustainability Implications

3

1.4

Outline of the Thesis

4

2

THEORY AND EMPIRICAL RESEARCH

5

2.1

An Approach to Innovation

5

2.2

Employment in New Firms

7

2.3

Nascent Gender Gaps in Business and Technology

8

2.4

Workforce Diversity through a Gender Lens

12

2.5

Diversity and Firm Innovative Performance

14

2.6

From the Business Case to an Innovation Case for Gender Diversity

16

3

DATA AND RESEARCH METHOD

19

3.1

Research Design

19

3.2

Qualitative Interviewing Method for Data Collection

21

3.3

Data Analysis

22

3.4

Validity, Reliability and Ethical Reflections

24

4
4.1

EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION

26
26

Stockholm Tech Start-up Scene

4.2
Qualitative Content Analysis and Findings
4.2.1 Activities that affect innovative performance
iv

28
28

4.2.2
4.2.3
4.2.4
4.3

5

31
34
37

Recruitment process and criteria
Gender diversity
Gender diversity ab initio or de futuro?

38

Discussion

CONCLUSION

42

REFERENCE LIST

45

APPENDICES

52

Appendix A.

Interview Protocol

52

Appendix B.

List of Interviewees and Background Information

55

LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1. A schematic overview of the research findings ............................................ 39

LIST OF TABLES
Table 1. Respondents and start-up team composition ................................................. 55
Table 2. Respondents and innovation in their start-up activity ................................... 55

v

1

INTRODUCTION

“A major challenge for innovation system analysis is to avoid thinking in terms of
mechanical models of causality and develop theory as well as analytical techniques
that make it possible to study how different factors interact in a systemic context.”
Lundvall, B.-Å (2007: 22)

Background
A systemic approach to innovation has allowed economic research to map the actors
involved in innovation processes (Lundvall, 2007). Whereas analyses pivot on private
and public institutions, the individuals embedded in the institutions’ activities are not
visible in the innovation discourse (Alsos et al, 2013). Research has typically focused
on innovation outcome; yet, our understanding of innovation instances and
participants is rather fragmented (Fagerberg, 2005). New firm creation is known to be
conducive to innovation and industry dynamics (Geroski, 1995), which may explain
why entrepreneur’s role has been traditionally center stage in the innovation literature
(Schumpeter, 1942; Shane and Venkataraman, 2000).
1.1

High rates of innovation are an instrumental factor for corporate population
restructuring and new job creation (Birch, 1989). As entrepreneurs reach for labor
force to launch their ventures, they engage in further competition with incumbent
firms as employers (Sørensen, 2004). In the context of innovation and knowledgeintense industries, the competition naturally revolves around skilled labor. Firms draw
technological competences from a dynamic knowledge base, built on diverse inputs
taken from various areas of the broader technological and economic landscape
(Colombelli et al., 2013). Information Technology industry is typically an innovation
and knowledge-intense sector that encompasses a broad spectrum of business
activities. Considering that diversity facilitates knowledge search and recombination
(Mohammadi et al., 2017), we expect diversity to be conducive to the business and
innovation activities within tech industry. Diversity is multi-dimensional upon
individuals’ different characteristics and it entails aspects like age, ethnicity,
educational background and gender.
Entrepreneurship is arguably a gendered phenomenon (Minniti, 2009 cited in Alsos et
al.,2013), similarly to gender being inherent to sociotechnical process (Wajcman,
2010). Following similar reasoning, it is plausible to conceptualize innovation as both
a source and an outcome of gender relations (Alsos et al., 2013). A gender perspective
on the systemic approach of innovation milieus does not entail the introduction of a
novel “gender” element; to the contrary, it weights the contribution of an element
already embedded in the innovation process (Danilda and Thorslund, 2011). By virtue
1

of a gendered perspective, we can analyze the lingering gender gap in innovation and
knowledge-intensive industries, as this extends over business and innovation practices.
1.2 Research Questions
Gender-based disparities can emerge within various contexts and may even overlap,
as is the case, for instance, in business and innovation processes. The purpose of this
study is to explore gender diversity and innovation in the context of new business
creation. Research in the intersection of gender diversity and firm-level innovation
has primarily dealt with larger organizational environments, perhaps due to
established innovation procedures and coordinated management practices. Shifting
the focus from an established organizational setting to one under formation, the main
research question is formed as follows:
- How does gender diversity in the workforce of a new venture influence firm’s
capacity to innovate?
In addition, I delve deeper into new ventures workforce composition and scrutinize
their recruitment tactics to gain further insight into the criteria that apply for start-up
team formation. Consequently, the main research question is complemented with the
question:
- How do founders in tech industry approach gender diversity, when building their
start-up team?
The new ventures studied are at their formative stage and form part of the Stockholm
tech start-up ecosystem. The Swedish context provides a suitable field for research, as
gender mainstreaming is prominent and people discuss gender topics more willingly.
In addition, it boasts one of the most prolific tech hubs globally. Nonetheless, there
are certain limitations to be considered as of this choice of focal point, which are
deployed in subsequent chapters.
To the best of the author’s knowledge, there are no previous studies investigating the
relationship between gender diversity and innovation at this stage of firm growth. The
research design assumes a qualitative approach that is deemed more appropriate for
the way the author intents to answer the research questions. The concepts that are
scrutinized are complex and manifest themselves in multiple dimensions. Individuals
are expected to assign various functional aspects to innovation capacity, as well as to
interpret gender diversity based on their experiences and background. Hence, by
utilizing a qualitative approach for this thesis, a theoretical construct can take form
and unveil the potential links between firm-level gender diversity and innovation.
Those links will also provide a better understanding of how start-ups build their
founding teams and employ skilled labor. As such, a qualitative interviewing method
is followed to elucidate the topics of interest and determine the variables involved in
the study of gender diversity impact on firm capacity to innovate.
The variables are theorized ex ante but take their final form after data collection; i.e.
gender diversity, innovative capacity and recruitment criteria are operationalized at
2

the empirical analysis stage. This thesis offers both theory and evidence on gender
and innovation, so long as the concepts are interpreted broadly. Research in the
intersection of innovation and gender is both scarce and fragmented (Alsos et al.,
2013). The theoretical framework that motivates this study is built foremost on
gendered approaches to innovation within the relevant fields of business and
entrepreneurship. A joint research on gender and innovation will widen the scope of
innovation literature per se and give rise to new areas for research. The emergent
conceptual framework, which is -in actual fact- a preliminary attempt to explore firmlevel innovation through a gendered lens, constitutes this thesis contribution to a
gendered understanding of diversity impact on firm capacity to innovate.

1.3 Sustainability Implications
Following a prevalent consensus that innovation contributes to sustainable growth
and economic development, understanding the link between gender diversity in the
workforce and firm-level innovation will further our knowledge of a multifaceted
phenomenon. Sustainability considerations touch upon economic, social and
environmental imperatives (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
[UNECE], 2017). Regarding innovation as a gendered phenomenon, viz. as both a
source and an outcome of gender relations (Alsos et al., 2013), legitimizes a
sustainable aspect of gender diversity. What is suggested is that sustainability
alludes to social values that are also inherent in our conceptualization of a gender
diverse workforce, as it implies equality in terms of employment opportunities for
both genders. From a methodological viewpoint, it may be challenging to situate
gender relations within an environmental perspective (Schulz, 1996; Weller et al.,
1999, cited in Schultz et al., 2001). It has been argued that different types of
interaction between individuals and their material interests determine different kinds
of relationship to the environment (Agarwal, 1991; 1997, cited in ibid). Extending
the argument in a gendered perspective, the manifold interactions among individuals
involved in innovation processes could potentially untangle any environmental
values innate within gender diverse innovation milieus. Hence, further research is
needed to extrapolate any implications for the environment as a result of gender
diverse workforce at firm level.
This thesis’ subject pertains to the realm of a broader gender discourse and is
motivated by a view that integrating gender aspects in innovation research will lead
to more sustainable policies. This extends over a widespread belief that tapping into
female population’s skills can bolster economic growth, alleviate poverty, improve
social welfare and secure sustainable development in a global context 1
(Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2008).

1

See OECD’s (2008) report “Gender and Sustainable Development: Maximizing the Economic, Social
and Environmental Role of Women”, available online at: https://www.oecd.org/social/40881538.pdf
3

1.4 Outline of the Thesis
This thesis is structured in the following way. First, a theoretical framework is built
on current knowledge on innovation and gender, where employment in new firms is
also outlined. This section describes the theories used to approach the research
questions under study. Literature on innovative performance and gender diversity is
diligently scanned in order to report findings that are considered of particular
relevance to the aims of this thesis. The review of relevant theories and empirical
research unveil the research gap that this thesis aims to contribute to. Next section
presents the scientific approach and methods that have been applied to collect,
analyze and interpret data in this inquiry. The section concludes with considerations
on reliability, validity and ethical issues arising from the research design. The
following section provides an empirical analysis of collected data and presents the
main research findings. The thesis is brought to an end with a discussion of the results,
the limitations of this study, as well as mentions on future research possibilities
emerging at the intersection of gender and innovation studies.

4

2

THEORY AND EMPIRICAL RESEARCH

This chapter provides an overview of current knowledge on firm-level innovation
dynamics and gender diversity. Several theories and existing literature that further
our understanding of these concepts, are brought together to approach the questions
under research. The chapter concludes with the emergent research gap and this thesis
objective to add to the existing body of knowledge.

An investigation into the effects of gender diversity on firm-level innovative
performance lies at the intersection of two concepts that seem subtly correlated at first,
viz., innovation and gender. An encompassing definition of innovation may not
necessarily take a gender aspect into account; yet, we probably need to bring gender
into discussion, if we want to account for firm-level innovative performance in its
wider context.
There is a profound link between any firm’s capacity to innovate and its human assets.
Although it is knowledge and competence that naturally add value to the human
capital, it cannot be ignored that there are prominent aspects of identity, such as
gender, that influence human interactions. For that matter, they might influence the
very human interactions that take place at work. Assuming that, firm-level innovative
performance can be further investigated from a gender lens.

2.1 An Approach to Innovation
Innovation has been at the forefront of economic growth research for decades. The
effort to conceptualize its notion perseveres within an ever-changing socioeconomic
context, so that innovation is presumably context-dependent. Hence its power to
foster growth and development across a whole economic spectrum that extends from
the national and sectoral levels to the single firm unit. Innovation is omnipresent
throughout all following aspects: national innovation systems that fuel economic
growth and bring prosperity to the economy (Lundvall, 1992; 2007); the dynamic
view of industrial sectors and their agents that further technological development
(Malerba, 2002); and firm growth, where empirical studies associate high rates of
entrant firms to high rates of innovation and efficiency gains (Geroski, 1995).
In the Schumpeterian tradition, which lies at the core of innovation studies, a
transformative role is foremost attributed to innovation; it can replace existing
productive routines with new structures through an enduring “gale of creative
destruction” as described by J. A. Schumpeter (1942). These transformations occur in
both social and economic contexts. The Schumpeterian view also points to the
prominent figure of the entrepreneur, as the agent to incite innovation. Within the
emergent entrepreneurship literature, not only those enterprising individuals are in
spotlight, but also the opportunities to create entrepreneurial profit for the innovators
(Shane and Venkataraman, 2000). Opportunities for product and service innovation
take various forms and exist in different markets; according to Drucker (1985, cited in
5

ibid) entrepreneurs in product market identify opportunities as follows: (1) creating
new information with the invention of new technologies; (2) seizing upon the
information asymmetries that cause market inefficiencies; and (3) keeping alert for
the changes in the relative values of resources that result from changes in the political,
regulatory or demographic context.
There are processes through which technological opportunities translate to innovative
efforts and those illustrate how private agents allocate resources to create value.
Organizational arrangements are significant at firm-level, for they define all
procedures that allocate resources to innovative activities and establish that these
resources are used efficiently in the development of new products or processes, thus
improving existing routines (Dosi, 1988). Dosi (ibid) pinpoints innovative activities in
problem-solving, in “technological trajectories” or prescribed patterns of innovation,
in perceptions of technology as specific knowledge rather than information openly
available, and in firms’ systematic research and development; as a result, firms have
the advantage of building knowledge bases compared to individual innovators. As
expected, the nature of organizational arrangements varies across firms and industries,
the same way that innovation varies over time and space (Fagerberg, 2005 cited in
Alsos et al. 2013).
Ultimately, it all comes down to the decision-making unit for innovation, which is
apparently the firm (Klette and Kortum, 2004). In organizational theory, the behavior
of the firm is rather perceived through a conceptualization of the firm per se as a
complex entity that includes multiple individuals (Grant, 1996). Building on that, the
knowledge-based view of the firm provides us with another conceptualization; that of
the firm as a knowledge-integrating institution (ibid). Grant (ibid) stresses the
favorable position of firms integrating the knowledge that different individuals bring,
within their production process of goods and services. The integration mechanisms
naturally pertain to the management practices that foster coordination among the
specialist knowledge of different employees, assuming that specialization brings
efficiency gains to the firm (ibid).
Considering a firm’s knowledge base, it goes hand in hand with the organization’s
human capital resources, which constantly feed into this base. A firm’s capacity to
produce and innovate cannot be isolated from its personnel. For that matter, the
productive opportunity of a firm is highly dependent on the array of services that its
resources can accomplish; firms get a unique character from the heterogeneity of
those services (Penrose, 1995). Penrose further argues that “Not only can the
personnel of a firm render a heterogeneous variety of unique services, but also the
material resources of the firm can be used in different ways, which means that they
can provide different kinds of service” (ibid: 75). Extending that argument to make a
case for heterogeneity in firm workforce inextricably touches upon employment in
new firms.

6

2.2 Employment in New Firms
Innovation certainly plays a transformative role into the economy, while new firms
are crucial for “creatively destroying” existing structures, acting as both innovators
and job creators. Small firms are vital part of the economy for they contribute to
economic growth with their supply of goods and services (Kirchhoff, 1996). New
firms potentially bring in qualitative changes to the production processes and as such,
they are capable of dynamically interfering with product market or industry structures.
High rates of innovation also incite a fundamental shift in how corporate population is
structured and how jobs are created (Birch, 1989).
Entrepreneurs eventually resort to labor to launch their ventures, which also implies
that they have to engage in a competition for specialist labor with the existing
employers (Sørensen, 2004). As a result, innovators’ efforts to tap into entrepreneurial
opportunities may strike labor constraints. Diverting resources from product market
competition to skilled labor competition depends upon investments in recruitment,
training and retention processes, which entrepreneurs would have to make under
budget restrictions (ibid). There is something romantic about bootstrapping garage
start-ups into success stories; there are visionary entrepreneurs that built a start-up
team and started off their house basement. Newly started firms entail the risk of
failure, yet employment in a small company feels more secure than within a larger
one, at times (Birch, 1989). Interestingly enough, Birch’s (ibid) empirical analysis in
the U.S., between 1970 and 1981, attributed to garage start-ups a likelihood to
disappear that was only two and one-half times more than that of a Fortune 5002
company.
The challenges that small firms have to address regarding their recruitment process
are distinct from larger firms’ barriers to recruitment; small and new firms have lesser
popularity and face greater pressure to abide by the institutional norms (Williamson et
al., 2002). New firms cannot count upon their reputation or market share to appeal to
prospective employees, who may not even be aware of their existence (Aldrich, 1999;
Aldrich and Von Glinow, 1991, cited in ibid). Moreover, as innovative activities
require skills, new innovative firms find themselves competing with larger industry
players for services of skilled professionals (ibid). At that specialized segment of the
labor market, the institutional standards and norms are more established (ibid), which
demand from firms to comply with formal recruitment processes. However, new firms
may have difficulty complying, due to lack of resources, for instance. Especially
within industries in their formative years, innovating entrepreneurs may find
themselves in a position where their legitimacy is being questioned (Aldrich and Fiol,
1994).
A formal recruitment process will typically ensure that the employee’s earnings
correspond to its credentials and the market norms. Even so, organizational dynamics
may have consequences on wage that will further affect employment opportunities
2

The “Fortune 500 companies” are U.S. corporations ranked by their total earnings for each respective
fiscal year. The list is annually compiled and published by Fortune magazine
(http://fortune.com/fortune500/).
7

(Sørensen, 2007). For instance, as new ventures create vacancies, the ensuing job
mobility may influence labor demand and wages (ibid). According to Sørensen’s
argument, wage inequalities partly derive from the degree of heterogeneity during the
matching process among employees and employers (ibid). Firm survival is also of
concern for potential employees. In a context where most start-ups have a brief lifecycle, joining a new venture is a risky decision, but from the viewpoint of labor
market entrants, there might be more eagerness to assume that risk (Nyström and
Elvung, 2014). Allowing for a less heterogeneous group of employees, namely those
who view start-ups as an entry point to the labor market, can ascribe a lesser wage
penalty to new firms as employers (ibid).
Industry dynamics are shaped by industry’s level of technology and stage in life-cycle
(Agarwal and Audretsch, 2001). The Information Technology industry has evolved
through the years into a broad sector that embodies multiple technology markets and
that is, correspondingly, populated by multiple firms; the “tech” umbrella covers large
established corporations and smaller firms, including ones with exceptionally high
growth rates. No official definition can explicitly account for what is now perceived
as “tech”, but assuming a growth stage in the life-cycle, possibly towards maturity,
firm size is of less relevance for survival, as small firms are capable of positioning
themselves in strategic niches within the industry (ibid).
Survival rates are equally related to firms’ capacity to build a dynamic knowledge
base, from where they can draw technological competences (Colombelli et al., 2013).
In that context, new knowledge derives from the compilation and arrangement of
diverse knowledge inputs, taken from various areas within the technological and
economic landscape (ibid). In this approach, innovative firms that wish to survive
should commit to a knowledge search process that is characterized by diversity and
coherence, but not by cognitive distance (ibid). According to evidence from Brüderl
and Preisendörfer (2000, cited in Lautenschläger, 2015), both start-up size and the
founders’ human capital are positively connected to rapid growth, while
implementing an innovative business strategy accounts for most part of that growth.
Their reasoning implies that new innovative firms are more likely to grow rapidly
(ibid).

2.3 Nascent Gender Gaps in Business and Technology
It becomes apparent in research corpus that heterogeneity needs to be further explored
as context dynamically evolves within and across firms and industries. The terms
under which heterogeneity is then perceived, depend upon the context given. In
Sørensen (2007), when organizational heterogeneity is discussed in a horizontal
dimension, it depicts diversity in terms of the types of business activity. Different
sectors utilize specific technology and, thus, demand for different specializations. As
suggested from Hannan’s work (1988, cited in ibid), differentiation in organizations’
types makes it more probable for employers’ needs to match with employees’ skills,
in a way that the latter are not randomly assigned to sectors. Heterogeneity in vertical
dimension, on the other hand, assumes all organizations demand for similar skills, so
8

that diversity occurs among employees’ different productivity levels (ibid). That
framework conceptualizes heterogeneity to discuss organizational diversity in relation
to the enduring wage inequalities among employees and across sectors.
Inequalities are widespread in the broader socio-economic context; we also tend to
perceive them through these two dimensions, i.e. as horizontal and vertical
inequalities. Horizontal inequalities, accounting for discrepancies among groups,
further contain gender inequalities (Stewart, 2016). Following how wage is unevenly
distributed among employees of different gender, for instance, points to a source of
gender inequality. The gender pay gap has traditionally been approached from a
gender perspective; prevalent explanations focus on gender differences in
qualifications and in treatment (Blau and Kahn, 2007). Different qualifications among
men and women most probably result from different years of education or working
experience, while different treatment suggests, by all appearances, discrimination in
labor market. The bigger picture, though, should also integrate an economic
perspective in the analysis; drawing on the trends of wage inequalities in total, the
wage-setting patterns and the shifts in labor demand would illustrate a more plausible
and inclusive explanation of the gender pay gap (ibid).
On the whole, gender gaps can emerge in various fields across the socio-economic
spectrum. Employment is a fundamental aspect of human lives and any inequalities
that emerge from human interaction within that spectrum inherently bear that
dimension. It is critical for research to contextualize gender gaps in their full scope, as
with the aforementioned gender pay gap. Gender equality in labor market does not
unify men and women’s nature, roles or needs, but rather highlight the equal value of
those different aspects among genders (International Labor Office [ILO], 2007).
Assuming that equality lies in the opportunities rather than the outcome (Roemer,
1998, cited in Steward, 2016), socio-economic development efforts should principally
aim for balance among men and women’s opportunities. Similar circumstances may
provide equal opportunities, but fair treatment will ensure that the individuals can
benefit equally from these opportunities. According to ILO (2007: 92) “Gender equity
means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs
and interests”.
Along these lines, gender diversity in a firm can be defined as the equitable
representation between male and female gender among its workforce. Gender is a
salient characteristic of individual identity and its study pertains to an array of
disciplines that incorporate individuals’ behavior into their scope. In group
interactions and decision making, gender diversity among individuals can potentially
raise the heterogeneity in values, beliefs and attitudes, so that individuals judge their
conjoint capabilities based on critical thinking (Garnero et al. 2014).
In economics, as well as in business and entrepreneurship literature, gender
differences have been studied to a great extent and research findings often make a
case for gender diversity. For instance, the current business case for gender diversity
calls for gender balance in firm leadership. Organizational research had already
scrutinized gender stereotypes in large organizational settings since the seminal work
9

of R.M. Kanter (1993), first published in 1977. Kanter portrays a corporate setting
where men and women are assigned to sex-segregating tasks that encompass an
idealized image of their skills (ibid). As a result, women staff organizations on a large
scale, but hardly ever climb up the hierarchy ladder (ibid). That phenomenon has been
later popularized under the metaphor of a glass ceiling, meaning the invisible barrier
that hinders women’s career attainment.
Nowadays increasing female participation in education and labor market, has led to
more women being appointed to managerial positions. Business literature has
subsequently stretched its gender perspective to explore management characteristics
and organizational behavior. Yet again, it becomes apparent how manifold
phenomena demand multi-faceted approaches; more women in management positions
do not count in favor of a converging gender gap if women had to adapt to male
norms, for that would not be gender equal (Alversson and Billing, 1992). In addition,
organizational creation has typically been studied through a masculine lens, which
makes the gendered nature of new business ventures less visible (Bird and Brush,
2002).
In science and technology, another ingenious metaphor has been broadly used to
illustrate how female students and professionals exit the field at various stages
throughout their education and career. This fragmented trajectory is commonly
pictured as a pipeline that leaks out women. The intuition behind both metaphors
mentioned (glass ceiling and leaky pipeline) is that women face some barriers that
keep them from reaching their potential; for that matter, this untapped talent also
keeps businesses and society away from established growth and development goals.
Feminist approaches of technology advocate a mutual shaping of gender and
technology, in a way that technical change has an impact on gender power relations
that needs to become relevant in policymaking (Wajcman, 2010). In the light of
outspoken metaphors, could gender discrepancies in both business and technology
proclaim a gender gap in innovation, to wit, an untapped potential to innovate?
The gender gap in start-up activities portrays how there are significantly less female
than male entrepreneurs, even in labor markets with even representation among
genders (Markussen and Røed, 2017). Entrepreneur’s profile and characteristics are
typically center stage in entrepreneurship literature, but research has gradually
incorporated that gender dimension. The analysis has gone beyond the basis of
studying differences or similarities among female and male characteristics, as taken
from both observed and unobserved factors, such as education, profession or family
status, and attitude towards risk or competition, respectively. Markussen and Røed
(ibid) discuss the influence of gender-specific networks and peers to explain the
gender gap in entrepreneurship. On the basis of such influences, present low rates of
female entrepreneurs can be partly attributed to modest rates of other female
entrepreneurs among their peers to whom they could look up to; an increase in current
female entrepreneurship will incite more women to venture their business ideas in the
future. Seron’s et al. (2016) research in the persistence of sex segregation within
engineering profession, a male-dominated field, also point to peer effects and the
professional socialization process in terms of explaining low female participation in
10

the field. Further research suggests that women who obtain similar characteristics as
men (in distributional terms) are still demonstrating less entrepreneurial or
intrapreneurial activities (Adachi and Hisada, 2017). Adachi and Hisada (ibid)
conclude that workplace conditions are more instrumental than family-related policies
in gender gap mitigation.
Upon regarding entrepreneurship through a gender lens, the research departs from
studying the differences between individuals and allows us to explore how gender lies
in processes, meanings and experiences (Carter and Shaw, 2006; Ahl and Nelson,
2010, cited in Alsos et al., 2013). Applying that same lens to innovation would entail
a research focus on individuals as actors, which has not been given (ibid). We know
that innovation occurs in processes, in organizations, in research institutions (as spinoffs) and in innovation systems, but we ignore innovator’s role (ibid). Unlike
entrepreneurs’ clear mandate to upset current structures with their endeavors,
innovators are not entrusted with any determinate tasks. Research has approached
innovation, for the most part, through its outcome and we fall short of understanding
why and how it occurs (Fagerberg, 2005). Beyond doubt, it’s an organizational
phenomenon, yet we should keep in mind that firms’ ability to innovate depend highly
on their openness, i.e. the interaction with their environment (ibid). This also brings to
mind the emergent concept of “open innovation” and the discussion about future
prospects for innovating firms (Chesbrough, 2017). We may even draw a parallel
between Fagerberg’s (2015: 14) “a firm does not innovate in isolation” and
Chesbrough’s (2017) vision for large-scale, collaborative and robust innovation
processes that will facilitate innovation in both products and services.
Firm products and services fall into industries and, as already mentioned in the
beginning of this sub-section, there is a predominant set of skills and specializations
that apply to each industry. It is quite possible that industry “culture” influences the
entrepreneurial process and, subsequently, the newly started firms per se (Bird and
Brush, 2002). Technology-driven firms manifest an exigent, highly competitive nature
and clearly set growth objectives, all of which are representative of a masculine
dimension that is presumably the norm of new firm creation and survival in the
industry (ibid). The insight from Bird and Brush’s (ibid) gendered perspective on new
venture creation is that entrepreneurs and firm processes manifest attributes that span
from masculine to feminine, but the latter is typically neglected. The authors
conceptualize gender maturity as the “conscious integration, acceptance, appreciation,
and enactment of qualities of both genders” (ibid: 56) and make the case that gender
mature entrepreneurs will create gender-balanced organizations.
As the intersection of gender and innovation has been slightly researched, the existing
framework is rather built on gender research within the kindred fields of business and
entrepreneurship. In consideration of innovation’s inter-disciplinary nature and
gender’s multi-faceted approach, building on research insights from relevant fields is
in no way of lesser importance. Alsos et al. (2013) identify the particular challenge of
research in gender and innovation, in the fact that any gender impact is not obvious;
one has to delve deeper into innovation processes, organization and systems.
Accounting for the notion of diversity as an instrumental characteristic among firm
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workforce, it is interesting to explore its impact on firm-level innovation, which could
further suggest an innovation case for dismantling gender inequality.

2.4 Workforce Diversity through a Gender Lens
There is ample reason to argue that diversity matters in a business context; from
workforce to product and networking strategies, diversity provides advantages in
many ways. While it appears to be rather intuitive, there is plenty of scientific
evidence to support the intuition for diversity gains. In science and technology,
system diversity can facilitate the development of precautionary, resilient and
sustainable applications, but also promote innovation, moderate lock-in and embrace
inclusiveness (Stirling, 2007). An interdisciplinary analysis of diversity has validated
similar benefits for systems under distinct contexts, as long as that the system features
three essential elements: variety; balance and disparity; and it should possess all three
at the same time (ibid).
In new firm creation, entrepreneurs allowing for diversity of behaviors and
information, and adopting a more relaxed attitude toward conformity, can foster
innovation (Martinez and Aldrich, 2011). Yet, in economics there are also
circumstances when embracing diversity to promote innovation may inhibit other
aspects of performance; for instance, more diversity in an investment portfolio implies
less risk (Geroski, 1989 cited in Stirling, 2007). In that sense, diversity accounts for
moderating the contribution of individual elements (ibid). It follows on that any
diversity strategies should be approached with consideration for the trade-off between
their costs and benefits.
Gender is a component of diversity, therefore suggesting that innovation gains can
also arise from gender diversity is plausible. The challenge lies in quantifying these
benefits and comparing them with potential costs. A management insight on building
high performance teams suggests that matching functional competence with
employees’ personality and work preferences is crucial in nourishing trust among coworkers at early stage (Bassett-Jones, 2005). When individuals share similar attitudes
and preferences towards work context, they can transfuse homogeneity into team’s
approach as a whole, which can make into a blind spot for the firm; a team selection
that is blind to gender will naturally bring balance and diversity to the team (ibid).
Therefore, bringing new members to the team, besides new venture founders
themselves, is likely to be based on competence and team compatibility criteria.
Sociological research untangles team formation discussing various mechanisms;
among these, homophily explains how teams are composed based on similarities of
members’ characteristics. Gender as a social identity that is externally associated with
individuals, hence a characteristic ascribed to them, has been widely studied as a
homophily driver (Ruef et al., 2003). Ruef et al. (ibid) argues that U.S. entrepreneurs
tend to avoid including strangers on their founding teams composition, which may
eventually result in less functional diversity; potential costs from excluding strangers
could translate into excluding new perspectives and ideas from the organizational
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founding process. Depending on the emerging business, it is also possible that the
benefits from founding new teams based on strong interpersonal ties can
counterbalance the above-mentioned costs. Aldrich (1989, cited in ibid) suggests that
networks supporting female entrepreneurs as a response to male dominance in
entrepreneurial activities could possibly enhance homophily.
The workforce of new, small, albeit innovative firms is also subject to funding
constraints, which can account for the prevalence of temporary employment positions
in fast-growing firms (Lautenschläger, 2015). Research findings from Garnero et al.
(2014) indicate that productivity gains from gender diversity depend on the
technological and knowledge intensity of firms; gender diversity raise firm
productivity within high-tech/knowledge-intensive sectors (ibid). In the same research,
Garnero et al. (ibid) found no significant evidence to tie in firm size with diversity
effects. Smaller firms dispose limited resources and, thus, build more flexible
organizational structures that shift responsibility to employees (Gupta and Cawthon,
1996). This environment enacts collaboration and knowledge-based authority among
small/medium-sized firms’ employees, which are then more likely to be responsible
for production innovation and problem solving (ibid). In that sense, it would be
interesting to explore gender diversity effects and innovation processes within small
firms, as those enter a high-tech and knowledge intensive sector.
The lack of cohesion among findings, though, stresses the importance of empirical
research to isolate the gender dimension of diversity effects on a firm’s innovative
performance. Innovation processes are interactive as they embody the exchange of
perspectives and communication among employees that come from different levels of
the organization and bear different qualities from various backgrounds (Østergaard et
al., 2011). Diversity among employees’ backgrounds creates an open space that
accommodates pluralism and allows new ideas to flow, thus, refining this interaction.
Innovative performance engages a considerable amount of creativity in aggregating
the multiplicity of ideas. Østergaard et al. (ibid) argue that considering solely the
technological dimension of knowledge in terms of diversity and focusing on small
groups within larger organizational settings can disregard the benefits of a diverse
composition of skills and knowledge that encompass factors like gender, age and
education. They estimate, subsequently, four econometric models that incorporate
human capital diversity and quantify the link between diversity and innovation from a
broader perception of knowledge through firms’ intangible assets. Their empirical
findings suggest a positive link between gender diversity and a firm’s likelihood to
innovate.
It is important to distinguish between the different dimensions that group interactions
transpire throughout organizational processes. The interaction style that improves
innovative performance is usually creativity-intense, and besides, may differentiate
from the interaction style that strengthens firms’ effectiveness (ibid). Radical
innovations’ contribution to firm revenue is positively correlated with diversity in
ethnic and educational backgrounds at aggregate firm-level (Mohammadi et al., 2017).
More specifically, while disciplinary (educational) background diversity breeds both
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radical and incremental innovation, ethnic diversity has a fundamental impact on the
former (ibid).
Extant literature provides strong evidence supporting the innovation-related
advantages of diversity, both in disciplinary and demographic aspects of human
capital; nonetheless, diversity is a nexus of components, one of them being gender.
Identifying who is involved in innovation processes –hence, considering individual
identity- and then documenting interactions from their personal perspective will
further our understanding of the diversity effects. Such documentation requires
narrowing down the scope of analysis to a single industry; as already pointed,
industries with high technological and knowledge intensity are in focus to elicit a
valuable insight into diversity, gender and innovation.
Another noteworthy distinction is the one between firm productivity and innovative
performance, as they overlap but do not necessarily coincide. Innovation is one
among the major organizational processes (Saunila, 2017), thus measuring the result
of business activities with an innovation focus is only part of measuring the overall
firm performance. Firm productivity is commonly tied to quantifiable metrics of
business processes, which statistically ascribe robustness to the measurements.
Innovative performance typically refers to research and development (R&D) as it
offers “clear measurable indicators of performance, e.g. success of R&D projects,
patents, publications, bonuses related to inventions” (Turner, 2009: 124). Directing
research efforts on quantifying innovation outcomes entails the risk of overlooking
triggers of innovation. It can, thus, be argued that a qualitative approach on innovation
processes –which are intrinsic in overall business processes, could provide us with a
more holistic view of innovation performance.

2.5 Diversity and Firm Innovative Performance
Discussing gender and innovation in a business context while looking past firm
performance, it would be a credulous attempt to delve into innovation processes.
Firm-level innovative performance is embedded in employees’ competence, in their
allocation within the organization and in group interaction. In like manner, gender is
innate in individuals’ identity.
Turner (ibid) explores the business case for gender diversity by isolating the effects of
gender on innovative performance. The researcher processes R&D data and estimates
an econometric model that predicts an enhancement of individual and team innovative
performance as the result of an increase in gender diversity at firm level. The context
of this research regards international companies that have a clear innovation strategy,
according to which they assess individual and collective R&D performance in a quite
homogenous fashion. The key points from Turner’s case are, first, the need for a
protocol among firms to establish a common assessment method for diversity
implications on innovative performance, and second, the moderating effects of
domain bias. That is to say, women are over-represented in several firm activities and
projects that do not act as major contributors to the firm’s innovation process (ibid).
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As professions can be gender-typed, i.e. assumed as typically male or female, on the
basis of gender representation among labor force and the attributes that determine
successful job performance (Welle and Heilman, 2005), we would expect, for instance,
women to be over-represented in human resource management processes and less
present in technology and innovation activities, a typically male-dominated field
(Seron et al., 2016). Yet, Kanter’s (1976) insight on hierarchical structures pinpoints
the erroneous focus on “sex differences” to explain the variance in behavior among
genders; an examination of individuals’ distribution across large organizations’
structural positions would provide a better explanation for deviation in gender
behavior.
Parotta et al. (2014) also quantify firm innovation on the basis of patenting behavior.
Their econometric model scrutinizes employer-employee data, like Østergaard et al.
(2011), as they estimate workforce diversity effects in terms of cultural background,
education and demographic characteristics. The empirical analysis give significant
results that only account for cultural background diversity impact on firm’s patenting
activity, but not education or demographic characteristics, including gender.
Generally, the authors underscore the significance of analyzing inclusive datasets, as
they paint a clear picture of labor force composition at the firm level. Besides that,
endogeneity issues need to be addressed when quantifying the diversity impact on
innovation, as the effects may be inflated from existing diversity-aware strategies
implemented by firms.
Exploiting information on patents as proxy for innovation will certainly reveal a
firm’s propensity to innovate, yet it might not be relevant for new and small firms.
Söllner’s (2010) firm-level study in the impact of a heterogeneous human capital on
firm’s propensity to innovate corroborate their positive relation, nonetheless the
results apply to product innovation activities in manufacturing industries. That context
is distant from the new firm creation lens that this thesis applies to innovation
activities. Protogerou et al. (2017) investigate innovative performance through young
firms’ lens and suggest that any prior exposure of founders to R&D is, indeed, a
decisive factor for firm’s propensity to innovate. Besides, findings from
Lautenschläger (2015) confirm that new innovative firms employ individuals with
former experience from research institutions to a great extent. In addition, academic
spin-offs typically employ scientists and alumni from research institutions, at least in
the formative years of their venture.
Other factors that determine new firms innovative performance arise from firm’s
market environment, portrayed as a nexus of internal and external factors (Protogerou
et al. 2017). The authors identify the determinants in workforce human capital, as
composed from team’s educational background and functional diversity, but also in
firm’s capacity to acquire knowledge from external sources, such as technology
collaborations and networking with universities or other affiliated institutions (ibid).
An interesting point from Protogerou et al. (ibid) that connects to this thesis’ scope of
interest, is a gender effect among workforce composition; their analysis indicate that a
gender diverse composition of the founding team is prone to innovate but less likely
to engage in radical innovation activities, as opposed to an all-male founding team.
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However, the authors are careful with the interpretation of that result and take into
consideration the multifaceted innovative performance that can occur in both hightech and low-tech industries, as both where included in their research sample (ibid).
A firm’s capacity to innovate is mapped by its routines and processes, which
encompass several individual and collective aspects: to wit, external knowledge,
structures, regeneration, leadership, employee activity, work well-being and knowhow (Saunila, 2017). Saunila (ibid) suggests that these factors should be reflected
upon innovation performance measurements, which usually adopt a systematic
approach and focus on inputs, process, outputs or outcomes. A more holistic approach
to innovation performance would also include the firm’s ability to innovate, hence,
include the triggers of innovation and capture the complexity of their sources (ibid).
Again, innovation performance indicators are a management tool that firms with
established organizational structures are more likely to implement in their processes.
Innovation management literature embodies a range of performance measurement
schemes in theory, but lacks the practitioner’s perspective (Dewangan and Godse,
2014). For firms to address effectively the challenges with their innovation
performance measurement systems, a comprehensive approach will help optimize
their innovation efforts (ibid). As expected, a holistic view accommodates the causeeffect dipole of innovation, grasps all dimensions and processes within the system,
address stakeholders’ goals and can be easily implemented within firms (ibid).
New firms may be challenged by a scarcity of resources or the lack of structured
management practices; still, they can benefit from their compact team structure and
develop tailor-made solutions for their needs in innovation performance metrics,
following all guiding aspects of the holistic approach.

2.6 From the Business Case to an Innovation Case for Gender Diversity
All things considered, the nexus between diversity in workforce and firm’s innovation
is featured in literature from various perspectives. Gender as an aspect of diversity has
been rather neglected from research efforts, as innovation studies scrutinize products,
processes or organizations, but not people embedded in them (Alsos et al., 2013).
Nevertheless, our knowledge about the impact of gender diversity on innovative
performance is proliferating as more empirical studies investigate heterogeneity in
organizational context.
Since organizations are typically multilevel, analysis moves toward specific
organizational levels. The business case for gender diversity is built around equal
gender representation in top management level. Empirical research confirms that
heterogeneity within top management teams is important for achieving strategic goals
in terms of innovation and performance, and besides, personality and power are
significant heterogeneity proxies for cognitive diversity (Pitcher and Smith, 2001).
Harrison and Klein (2007) argue for a better conceptualization of diversity in order to
make accurate inferences about its effects. Considering each factor that differentiates
the members composing a work-team, they postulate three types of diversity, i.e.
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separation, variety, disparity (ibid). Gender diversity is possible to conceptualize as all
three types, given the context; under any context, though, gender is usually perceived
either as a salient characteristic or as a symbol for a certain status / task preferences
within a unit (ibid). For example, in a context where power is unevenly distributed
among men and women in a work-team, gender diversity has asymmetric effects and
is perceived as disparity (ibid).
Horwitz and Horwitz (2007) conducted a meta-analysis of the diversity effects on
work-team outcomes where they group gender along with other innate and directly
observable member characteristics into what they call “bio-demographic diversity”
and, subsequently, distinguish from “task-related diversity”. Their findings do not
sustain any legible impact on team performance for bio-demographic diversity, as
opposed to the task-related diversity’s significant effects. Based on that, the authors
advocate task-related heterogeneity as an effective management strategy, over
building teams based on demographic attributes alone (ibid). What is interesting with
Horwitz and Horwitz meta-analysis is how they discern diversity between these two
types; it is plausible that demographic and individual (task-related) characteristics
overlap, considering, for instance, research claims about gender’s (demographic)
impact on individual’s choice of education (task-related).
Concluding the chapter, the main findings standing out of the sum of empirical studies
reviewed, add up to an innovation case for gender diversity. Extending the business
case for equal treatment and diversity among employees at organizational level, an
economic case for gender equality highlights the macro-level benefits from addressing
discrepancies in the broader labor market (Danilda and Thorslund, 2011). An
innovation case for gender diversity utilizes a gender perspective to reinforce
innovation milieus and grow their innovative capacity (ibid).
Although literature in the intersection of gender diversity and business innovation is
scarce and mostly pivots on large organizational contexts, the body of knowledge is
expanding as both research and policymaking become more gender-aware. Empirical
findings concur with diversity impact on business innovation, but further research will
consolidate evidence on the isolated effects of gender diversity and provide more
comprehensive measurements for innovative performance. Expanding joint research
on gender and innovation will also broaden innovation literature scope and offer new
insights on which areas are important for future research (Alsos et al., 2013). Current
research suggests that gender practices intertwine with innovation process and studies
the complexities of innovation under the lens of gendered constructs, i.e. masculinities
and femininities (Pecis, 2016).
Research cannot just be confined to a fine-tuning of knowledge gathered from an
array of disciplines, perspectives and research methods; research efforts are supposed
to add to extant knowledge. Gender gap in innovation is increasingly discussed and
the need for gender-aware policies becomes critical. The present thesis examines the
relation between gender diversity and innovative performance using young tech startups as the focal point of research. To the best of the author’s knowledge, there are no
previous studies investigating the relationship between gender diversity and
17

innovation at the level of this business stage. The research method of choice is
another novelty of this study and is expounded in more detail in the chapter that
follows.

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3

DATA AND RESEARCH METHOD

This chapter presents the emergent design for this research.

3.1 Research Design
The purpose of this thesis is to research the following questions: (i) how gender
diversity in the workforce influences the innovative capacity of a firm, and (ii) how
founders build their start-up team with respect to gender diversity. The research
questions per se have an exploratory nature that directs the research towards a mixed
methods approach, where collecting sequentially both quantitative and qualitative data
would provide a thorough understanding of the problem (Creswell, 2014). This comes
in line with the pragmatic worldview that is assumed throughout the present study.
The research objective is to explore any relation between gender diversity and
innovation in the context of new business creation, by studying the practical
implications of these concepts in new ventures and the actions of the individuals
involved.
In research design, pragmatism allows mixed methods researcher to choose freely
from an array of methods, techniques and procedures those that best fit the purpose of
her study (ibid). Creswell also refers to Rossman and Wilson (1985) to highlight how
pragmatic worldview shifts focus from methods to the research problem and how the
researcher uses all approaches available to derive knowledge (ibid). The point of
departure for this study is evidence on females being underrepresented in innovationrelated business activities, as demonstrate statistical data and published testimonials
of industry workers, namely technology industry labor force (UNESCO Institute for
Statistics, 2017; European Commission, 2016; Beede et al., 2011). That point also
serves as the intuition behind the research questions and, accordingly, dictates the
research design to be implemented.
Upon initial review, gender diversity and innovative performance at firm level occur
as the main variables under study. It would seem as a common ground to define
perfect gender diversity as male employees comprising half of the workforce and
female the other half. Provided that is the case, constructing a statistical index based
on female (or male) participation in total firm manpower would serve as an adequate
measure of firm-level gender diversity. At this point, the author chooses not to engage
in the broader gender discourse, as it would entail discussing gender from the various
perspectives it is approached by different disciplines. Instead, the author opts for an
understanding of gender through the social and cultural constructions that assign a
range of characteristics to men and women.
Given that gender diversity is simple to be statistically measured, the challenges arise
from measuring employees’ innovative achievements, most notably from
quantitatively assessing the impact of gender balanced labor on innovative
performance. Turner (2009) discusses limitations within a quantitative analysis of the
impact of gender balance on innovative performance, in terms of utilizing several
performance indicators and a set of explanatory variables that allow for multiple
19

relevant factors, namely marital status, number of children, HR practices, industry
characteristics, etc.
Gender is one component of diversity and isolating its particular effect on innovative
performance is a relatively new research topic. The present study intends to explore
the dynamics of a gender diverse labor force in firm-level innovative performance.
According to Creswell (2014), a qualitative approach may facilitate our understanding
of a concept or phenomenon where there is inadequate amount of research or
ambiguity over the suitable research variables. That being the case, along with the
confined time frame for this thesis, the researcher made the choice to put emphasis on
qualitative methods for data collection, analysis and interpretation, as it would be
more beneficial for the purpose of her study.
Qualitative research relies on the individual meaning and views of participants with
regard to a social or human problem (ibid). Denzin and Lincoln (2000, cited in Seale
et al., 2004: 5) argue that although both qualitative and quantitative researchers allow
for individuals’ perspective through their distinct methods, the former claim to better
approach participants and elicit their views by means of observation and in-depth
interviewing. Interviews, as seen from a dynamic perspective, constitute occasions for
constructing meaning (Holstein and Gubrium, 1995). Therefore, interview
participants are less likely to be viewed as passive conduits for data to be gathered;
rather they assume a role of active meaning-makers and thus engage in the production
of knowledge (ibid).
When we refer to firms as being “innovative”, we tend to overlook the fact that
innovation originates from the human interactions that take place at firm level. In that
sense, individuals, or teams working in a firm, contribute to an overall innovative
performance through their innovation-related activities and achievements. The same
reasoning applies for firms being characterized as “inclusive”; it is the diversity
among the firm’s workforce that reflects its disposition towards inclusion. For that
matter, this thesis explores the dynamics and complexities of gender diversity and
innovation from the perspective of the human assets that businesses have at their
disposal. To be more specific, interviews with people involved in new firms within
technology industry are conducted, to gather data for this research. Tech industry is
considered a highly innovative sector, yet it is where the problem was spotted.
Gender gap in technology industry extends from academia, research and development,
to leadership. This study put a spotlight on tech start-ups in the hope that inquiring
stakeholders from small business units would illuminate the linkage between gender
diversity and innovation. To the extent of the author’s awareness, this topic has not
been examined within a similar context nor has similar method been applied in the
past. On that account, this study’s purpose is also to add to the existing body of
knowledge on the business case for gender diversity and to incentivize entrepreneurs
to consider gender balance when building their business from scratch.

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3.2 Qualitative Interviewing Method for Data Collection
As stated in the previous section, a qualitative interviewing method is applied to
collect data through discussion with the participants. In a qualitative approach, the
inquirer collects open-ended, emerging data with the intention of developing themes
from them (Creswell, 2014). As to this thesis, the primary data is collected through
semi-structured interviews. This format permits the inquirer to pose open-ended
questions and follow-up with further inquiries and probes to clarify and interpret
where necessary. An Interview Protocol has been composed to guide the interviewer
through the questions to be asked (see Appendix A.2). The main themes to be
discussed are innovation activities, recruitment processes and future strategies, gender
diversity and balance. Qualitative interviewing serves foremost the purpose of
deriving interpretations from respondent talk, as opposed to facts or laws (Gubrium
and Holstein, 2001). From this perspective, respondents’ information will be used to
explore the underlying connection between start-up team composition and firm-level
innovative performance.
A choice is made to interview both male and female entrepreneurs and team members
in new firms, in accordance with the thesis’ neutral stand on the working ideas, in
particular, on gender issues. This viewpoint will be further discussed in a subsequent
subsection on validity, reliability and ethical reflections. The fact remains that time
limitations and a low response rate to the inquirer’s reach-out for participants did not
allow for equal representation –in terms of participants’ number- from both genders
discussed.
Interview respondents are occupied in various Stockholm-based tech start-ups, with
the majority of them being among the co-founders. All of them hold leadership
positions within the company, although management levels are not formally applied at
this stage of growth by most of these firms. In more detail, start-ups involved in the
study are in the early, formative years of their business (less than 3 years) and pertain
to either pre-seed or seed capital financing stages. They define their business activity
as innovative and within tech industry (see Appendix B, Table 2). In total, the data
has been collected during 6 interview sessions, each lasting on average 45 minutes.
The sample contains 5 females and 2 males. Out of discretion and to protect their
identities, each respondent assumes a pseudonym in the form of “Respondent#”,
where “#” takes a number from 1 to 7. Respondents 6 and 7 are among the cofounders of the same start-up and were both present during the interview. While most
of the interviewees would consent in having their real identities used for the purpose
of this thesis, some would rather express their ideas under anonymity, hence the
researcher’s pseudonyms scheme (see Appendix B, Table 1).
The interviews took place face-to-face and in locations pointed by each respondent,
those being either their working spaces or another public place, such as a coffee shop.
The overall style of the discussion was informal, so that the interviewer could
gradually walk interviewees through the main topics of interest. As follows from the
interview protocol (see Appendix A) the discussion flow was to begin from a set of
broader questions regarding innovation and recruitment processes and culminate in
gender diversity as a strategic choice. As expected from theory on qualitative
21

interviewing (see Gubrium and Holstein, 2001: 83-102), the interviewees shift
perspectives during discussion in relation to their social positions and personal
experiences; for instance, one of the respondents, a female engineer in her 40s that
quit her corporate job to co-found a start-up, got involved in the discussion drawing
on her experiences as a former corporate employee, then as an entrepreneur, even as a
mother of two young boys. Another female respondent drew –among others- on her
experiences growing up in a patriarchal social and cultural setting. These perspectives,
albeit contextual, emerge during talk and interaction between discussants and
determine the flow of the interview (ibid).
To the researcher’s best effort, interviews were kept within research context,
prompting respondents to communicate their reflections, i.e. their interpretations of
the themes discussed, and thus, co-create meaning along the interview process. It is
the researcher’s belief that most participants’ high level of engagement during
discussion has made it possible to collect trustworthy data. Other techniques applied
to collect the primary data, include non-verbal communication and keeping record of
each interview session, using a smartphone device, to ensure the interviewer’s focus
remain unhindered throughout the process.

3.3 Data Analysis
Following data collection, recordings of the interviews were transcribed into text for
each interview session, including some interviewer’s notes about her first impressions.
Considering that sessions were voice recorded, any non-verbal communication that
took place during the interviews rests upon the interviewer’s interpretation.
Respondents not being at ease passing judgment or commenting on some of the
working ideas might have moved or slightly changed their posture, which is hard to
grasp ex-post. However, the interviewer includes on her notes some descriptive
information regarding pauses prior to answering or respondent’s jokes, as these
features are indicative of how discussion transpired (Flick, 2014). The very nature of
face-to-face talk allows for context and speaking style of utterances to enhance the
conceptualization of the interview findings, as those emerge from speakers cocreating meaning (ibid).
To examine respondents’ information, the assumption that there is no right way to
analyze qualitative interview data, is made by the researcher (ibid). This assumption is
a double-edged sword; it gives the researcher a certain degree of freedom to explore
any correlation between gender diversity and innovative performance, yet it
conceivably confines the validity of inferences over a plausible causal relation
between them. Maxwell acknowledges the challenge in deriving causal inferences
using qualitative methods, referring to it as being “one of the more ambitious research
goals in the social sciences” (2004, cited in Gläser and Laudel, 2013, paragraph 9).
Based on Gläser and Laudel (ibid) framework, the point of departure for this analysis
was to identify the variables to be studied. Upon regarding innovative capacity as a
nexus of activities and processes that add value, it can be described by variables
22

embodying the following two dimensions; to wit, the content of an activity or process
and the scope (i.e. determining or improving innovative performance). Each
dimension can assume values in verbal context and not in quantities (ibid). The same
reasoning applies for recruitment criteria as a variable, in addition to a temporal
dimension that specifies the period in which the values of the other two dimensions
are found. Gender diversity is a variable that could be quantified as the ratio of
women to men in the team. Since the study takes in an inclusive gender perspective
on diversity, the variable should account for both fair gender representation but also
equal treatment between genders; therefore, team composition is analyzed beyond its
quantifiable aspect to include the quality of team interactions.
The analysis aims to conceptualize rather than quantify innovative performance,
before any potential impact of gender diversity can be examined. Considering that, the
analysis should result in an inclusive portrayal of the themes emerging from
interviews. To aggregate interview data into a compact number of themes (Creswell,
2014) and to seek and identify patterns that occur (Thompson, 1999), a qualitative
content analysis is implemented. To “distill the essence” of interview-generated data
(Flick, 2014: 304) few parts of the transcribed text are disregarded on the grounds that
they do not add to the interpretation of participants’ descriptions.
Extracting information from a text and analyzing it separately is intrinsic in
qualitative content analysis (Gläser and Laudel, 2013). Although the method is
considerably inductive, the analysis embarks upon constructing theme-related
categories ex-ante, on the basis of prior knowledge, including theory. Then, these
deductively constructed categories foster the analysis of information extracts.
Openness is a key to qualitative methods and as such, the analysis is kept close to
Gläser and Laudel’ s (2013 [2010, 2004]) approach, hence remaining flexible towards
emerging themes; i.e. the initial set of categories is subject to change, in terms of
numbers or structure, if empirical material suggests so. This is consistent with the
inductive nature of qualitative analysis.
The thematic categories constructed for data analysis were founded on the premise of
the above-mentioned variables. They specifically refer to the activities that affect
innovative performance, the recruitment processes followed and the conceptualization
of gender diversity. There are multiple dimensions in the categories to this effect;
namely, a material dimension that accumulate “values” from the interview excerpts, a
time dimension, and a causal dimension to include any mentions of causation among
the reported data (ibid). Moreover, there are indicators that facilitate a match between
interviewees’ statements and the analysis category they fall into, which take the form
of key words or phrases. For instance, statements that correspond to the category
“activities that affect innovative performance” will typically include the word
“innovation” and describe an activity that the interviewee interprets as a trigger for
innovation within their firm. The categories are further deployed in the following
chapter, where empirical analysis is presented.
Qualitative content analysis has been favored over other forms of data coding, to
avoid ending up with an overwhelming number of codes and indexed texts. Yet, there
23

are also challenges with “forcing data to fit preconceived hypotheses” (Flick, 2014:
306). To the author’s best intention to avoid issues relevant to preconceptions about
research findings, a self-reflecting process unfolds throughout the discussion of the
findings, and hence pre-existing thoughts, beliefs and assumptions are disclosed to the
reader (Creswell and Miller, 2000).

3.4 Validity, Reliability and Ethical Reflections
As discussed at the end of the previous subsection, researcher reflexivity aspires to
disclose any personal beliefs, values or biases that may affect the validity of this
research (ibid). This self-reflecting process is included in the section where the
findings are discussed, with an eye to critically adding to interpretations of the
empirical material. The inquirer’s personal reflections on the research questions were
not revealed to the respondents, for the sake of engaging with them in a discussion
that could flow around the working themes. Nevertheless, there were cases where
introducing the thesis subject to the respondents before asking questions, has created a
predisposition to connect initial themes discussed (i.e. innovation and recruitment
process) to gender, even when the latter has not yet been introduced to the
conversation.
Demonstrating validity in qualitative studies entails presenting credible findings (ibid).
Schwandt’s (1997, cited in Creswell and Miller, 2000) definition of validity accounts
for how accurately the reasoning follows participant’s realities of the social
phenomena studied. The present thesis discusses the link between the concepts of
innovative performance and gender diversity, in a context where new business
formation occurs. Probing the recruitment processes, we become aware of what
criteria entrepreneurs look into when building their teams. Recruitment criteria can
then serve as control factors upon assessing the effect of gender diversity on firms’
capacity to innovative. This bolsters the internal validity of the theoretical construct.
In addition, the theoretical framework and literature review foster the understanding
of this context. The rationale for the qualitative research design is thoroughly
explained to ensure credibility. Openness to emergent themes and reflexivity about
theoretical perspective, values and conduct are ubiquitous throughout the analysis.
The interview-generated data are represented accurately, from their collection to their
interpretation. Along the same line, data analysis is documented in the section about
empirical analysis that follows this chapter.
On the whole, it is possible for the reader to follow the research design and potentially
replicate the procedures. This is to underpin the reliability of the study. All interviews
have been conducted according to the interview protocol (see Appendix A) and the
same questions have been posed to all participants. The recording of the sessions
facilitate the analysis, in that the inquirer can re-listen to interview excerpts and
clarify any uncertainties. The inquirer has espoused an active approach to
interviewing that implies all speakers involved are inevitably engaged in creating
meaning and that interview responses are the result of interpretive practice (Holstein
24

and Gubrium, 1995). This is a critical assumption to keep in mind when replicating
the study.
It is plausible that a selection bias skews our research findings, due to the firms
included in the research. All start-ups represented in this study are less than 3 years
old (formative stage) and form part of Stockholm Tech Start-up ecosystem. The
participants’ sample, as it emerged, embodies both male and female founders and
team members. The ratio is not 50:50 as desired and as initially aimed. Time
limitations and low response rate to our interviews reach-out did not allow for equal
representation. Let it be noted that there were both male and female potential
participants who did not respond to the research call. The interviewees’ pool included
suggestions by KTH Innovation (current or previous affiliations) and individuals that
the inquirer approached after her research for Stockholm-based tech start-ups and
their founding teams; it is possible that proper randomization has not been achieved.
Last but not least, addressing ethical concerns has also been core to the research
design and the corpus of this study. Gender diversity is a sensitive topic for discussion
that most people directly associate to the gender equality discourse and gender
mainstreaming in general. Starting with the design of the research, from data
collection to data analysis, the inquirer has put effort in demonstrating a tacit code of
conduct and has assumed a neutral stance. Qualitative interviewing took place face-toface, so that both the physical presence and the gender of the inquirer may have
prejudiced the participants. Gender-of-interviewer effects imply that respondents give
different answers to male and female inquirers and it refers at times to both male and
female respondents (Kane and Macaulay, 1993). Huddy et al. (1997) found these
effects to be slightly more discernible upon controversial political questions
concerning the feminist movement, in relation to questions on gender equality. In this
study, the role of the interviewer has been to carefully listen to the respondents’
experiences and to encourage their personal reflection upon the gender and innovation
practices that occur in their work, at both individual and collective levels. To
acknowledge that the interviewer’s role is inherent to the qualitative interviewing
process is also to admit to having variables like gender influencing the product of the
research (Atkinson and Delamont, 2010).
This research’s pragmatic standpoint ascribes a systematic approach to the inquiry,
rather than an explanation of social practices (Clive et al., 2004). The empirical
material primarily consists of interpretations of the participants’ descriptions. As a
result, any inferences derived are the product of researcher’s qualitative analysis on
the empirical data. The author draws her conclusions from the analysis for the most
part, and refers to other sources in order to support her claims or suggestions. Other
ethical considerations include the interviewee’s permission to record the talk sessions
(granted prior to the recording), based on their trust upon the interviewer to use
recording materials purely for the purpose of this research.

25

4

EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION

This chapter portrays Stockholm tech start-up landscape, as all interviewees form
part of it through their start-up activities. Following that, the findings are reported,
as those derive from an empirical analysis of primary data collected via the
qualitative interviewing research method. The chapter ends with a discussion of these
findings.

4.1

Stockholm Tech Start-up Scene

Sweden is among world’s most innovative countries (World Intellectual Property
Organization (WIPO), 2017). Regarding Swedish tech industry, the spotlight is on its
capital Stockholm, which has been featured in multiple digital publications as a
prominent global tech hub. Quite often is also being referred to as a “unicorn factory”
(Financial Times, 2015) due to its vibrant tech/start-up ecosystem that encapsulates
new firms, investors, institutions and other actors. It is a substantial part of the
broader Nordic Tech ecosystem that is valued at a €7.2 billion total funding;
Stockholm-based start-up Spotify alone makes for €1.7 billion of that sum (Nordic
Tech List, 2017). In fact, if the digital music service company goes public valued at
$13billion, as expected, it will be Europe’s highest valued tech company (Dagens
Industri, 2017).
In 2016, there were 71,825 newly started companies in Sweden, besides which, 32 per
cent were started by women with business activities clustering around sectors like
Other service companies and personal services, Education, Care and welfare (Swedish
Agency for Growth Policy Analysis, 2017). Among total female entrepreneurs, over
35 per cent belong to the age groups up to 30 years old and 34 per cent started their
business in Stockholm County (ibid). In the same year, Stockholm’s tech/start-up
scene attracted $1.4 billion in investments (The Nordic Web, 2017).
The whole Stockholm start-up community is built around entrepreneurs; investors
aside, there is a network of government agencies, universities and research institutes,
co-working spaces, events and initiatives to support tech start-ups. The European
Digital City Index (EDCi) –an indicator of regional support to digital entrepreneursranks Stockholm second for scale-ups and third for start-ups (EDCi, 2017).
Notwithstanding a bounty of information on funding, registered companies and
support channels, the gender gap in tech industry cannot be precisely quantified. As
the industry employs professionals from various educational backgrounds, ranging
from engineering to business degrees, that would demand a systematic record keeping
of all individuals involved, not just “faceless” new firms. For that matter, most press
references on new start-ups typically bring the venture capitalists or the founder(s)
into the spotlight, but rarely the whole start-up team.
Considering the proximity between innovative start-ups, universities and research
institutions, statistics on engineering education for male and female population could
give a preliminary depiction of the gender gap. New firms could be spin-offs from
research labs or they could be scouting for talents among university graduates and
26

researchers (Lautenschläger, 2015; Protogerou et al. 2017). According to Statistics
Sweden (2016), 32 per cent of the degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels in
Technology and Manufacturing field (2014/15) were awarded to women, while the
corresponding percentage for Social Science, Law, Business and Administration field
amounted to 62 per cent. This can partly explain why female representation in tech
industry is rather low; it matches with an equally low female representation among
students of the relevant disciplines. From the same source, the percentage of women
among total number of individuals occupied as programmers and system developers
amounted to 21 per cent in 2014.
Several networks 3 and initiatives mobilize stakeholders and raise awareness of the
opportunities available for female professionals in tech industry, thus building a
platform where female entrepreneurs can meet experienced professionals from larger
tech organizations and exchange ideas. Swedish policymaking is following, in general,
a gender mainstreaming strategy, which implies adopting a gender perspective in all
areas. In education and employment, this strategy translates into equal opportunities
and conditions for both men and women (ibid).
All things considered, a fruitful ground for discussion can emerge from the Swedish
context, in terms of including a gender perspective on innovation analysis. Danilda
and Thorslund (2011) sustain in VINNOVA4’s report on “Innovation and Gender”
that innovation milieus can improve their innovative capacity by allowing for a
gender perspective in the system. This does not actually involve the introduction of
any new “gendered” element, but rather weight the contribution of an existing one
through its effects on system performance (ibid). The entire report pivots on how
businesses tap into a competitive edge by taking in a gender perspective into their
innovation processes. This can potentially apply to more disciplines and sectors,
besides the typically innovative industries of technology and manufacturing, so that
other work areas, where female representation is higher, can produce more innovation
(ibid).
In the face of all favorable conditions in the Swedish context, gender remains
invisible in some aspects; it is the author’s sentiment that individuals ignore or rather
not discuss gender in a business environment. Within the realm of this study, most
interview participants argued that they do not pay attention to other individuals’
gender, meaning that they value their personality instead. Gender is widely considered
a sensitive issue to discuss and openly formulate an opinion, perhaps due to a relative
ease with which, public makes generalizations or puts labels under statements.
Acknowledging this limitation, the interview protocol (see Appendix A) was
constructed with a neutral stance on gender diversity, in the sense that it would not
include any normative insinuations. Instead, the interviewees were encouraged to
express their meanings of the concepts under study and reflect upon them.
3

See Women In Tech, http://witsthlm.strikingly.com/

4

VINNOVA is the Swedish governmental agency for innovation systems.
27

4.2 Qualitative Content Analysis and Findings
“Qualitative research is empirical research where data are not in the form of numbers”
- Punch, 1998: 4
The use of variables is more common within quantitative research; nonetheless, the
benefit with concepts studied in a qualitative fashion is that they can be described by
variables that contain multiple dimensions, quantifiable or not (Gläser and Laudel,
2013). In this study, qualitative data were collected through interviews to analyze if
gender diversity has an effect on firm innovative performance. Reviewing the existent
innovation literature in relation to organizations, it becomes apparent that a firm’s
capacity to innovate is manifested through its routines and processes. Drawing on that,
the interview questions are developed to thematically span firm’s activities and startup team composition. Although the main themes were innovation activities;
recruitment processes and future strategies; gender diversity and balance; the
categories for the analysis took their final form after data collection. The variables
identified for study at firm-level were namely: innovative capacity, recruitment
criteria, and gender diversity. Lastly, the thematic categories constructed for data
analysis were founded on the premise of these variables.
Let it be noted that as the interview questions were open-ended, the answers were first
interpreted by the discussants during the actual interview process, and then yet again,
during the transcription of interview recordings. To extract information and analyze
interviewees’ statements under thematic categories, an interpretive reading of the data
was deemed as most suitable. To some extent, this was complemented by a reflexive
reading, considering the researcher’s inextricable role in data generation and
interpretation process (Mason, 2000). Alongside reading the data, the researcher
highlights and categorizes the expressions and statements that describe how contexts
and patterns are created according to respondents’ interpretations. This further
elucidates how categories and variables take form, as the analysis moves forward.

4.2.1 Activities that affect innovative performance
All respondents were first asked how they perceived innovation within the realm of
their start-up business activities5. As expected, they all pinpoint innovation at the core
of their product, but also lying in their business model, strategy and vision. Start-ups
contrive to attain growth objectives faster and in a more efficient way, given resource
constraints. Theory suggests that small and large firms have different growth patterns
(Geroski, 1995). As opposed to large incumbent firms with traditional strategies, that
need more time, more people involved and longer decision-making processes to
advance innovative projects, start-ups reap the benefits of being more flexible and
experiment with different strategies or tactics. One of the respondents refers to such
tactics as “time and resource hacks” (Respondent 1).

5

Respondents’ start-up activities and product or service innovation are listed in Appendix B, Table 2.
28

In general terms, all interviewees converge upon an interpretation of innovation as
inclusive as Kanter’s definition, viz. “the creation and exploitation of new ideas”
(1988: 170). Successfully launching new ideas is key to firm-level innovation, hence
new firms’ efforts to keep their innovative activities close to the market. Respondents
also refer to both the disruptive nature of innovation and the restructuring of existing
frames. Utilizing existing technology may not be disruptive innovation per se, but
organizing existing knowledge in a new manner can disrupt the industry (Respondent
3). Geroski (1995) asserts entry’s prominent role in transforming industry structures.
Moreover, restructuring a system from its base to make improvements is intrinsic in
innovation process, even if these are slight improvements in system performance
(Respondent 4). According to Respondent’s 5 interpretation “innovation is really
engineering; you build on your first great idea and create something more refined”.

Team Dynamics
When asked upon the activities that determine their innovative performance,
respondents untangle those internal processes from those external. Team dynamics are
deemed as critical for firm’s capacity to innovate. Respondents highlight the
importance of having an innovative mindset and ideas flowing within the team.
Respondent 1 views team’s innovative capability as “a sum of skills and talents in the
company”, while Respondent 5 describes a typical team brainstorm, where both good
and bad ideas are heard and challenged; eventually, they might follow through with
the “wrong” idea brought to new “right” dimensions. Building an organizational
culture from the very beginning, according to Respondent 1, is “one of the great
things of being part of a start-up; no matter how rapidly we have grown so far, our
values and symbols remain those we started with”. Respondent 5 gives an example of
how friction and interactions within the team “forced” them to create a process for
team communication; she believes that “building trust is an essential part of
innovation”. For Respondent 1, team’s trust towards their leadership (the start-up
founder and CEO) is something they can benchmark towards other start-up teams.
“The goals that he sets as a visionary, you really trust in those being the right thing to
do for the firm” (Respondent 1).
Respondents 4, 6 and 7 mention how team’s size facilitates their communication, even
if technology allows team members to work remotely; “Everyone knows what others
are working with. We are in coordination and constant communication” (Respondent
4). Respondents 6 and 7 are working on their product using laboratory facilities in
their university. Although scheduling their working hours simultaneously for all team
members is hard, they try to have some co-working sessions, as they have noticed
how helpful it is for them to be working on their different tasks next to each other.
“On those days (when all work in the lab) we are very efficient, even if we develop
different parts. If you get stuck on something, you can ask someone from the team;
maybe you solve it together and then move on to your separate tasks again.”
(Respondent 6). Respondent 1 also mentions some team communication routines, in
29

the form of daily morning “stand-ups6 ”, or closing-the-week meetings on Fridays,
which foster team culture and collaboration. Having clear guidelines for the tasks to
be completed is certainly seen as something necessary for the team collaboration;
Respondent 4 describes how team duties are separated into two parts spanning the
research-oriented side of the product and its production-ready side, which is closer to
customers’ experience.
Besides trust and seamless communication within the team, learning is also vital to
their capacity to innovate. While Respondent 5 values the entry of a new team
member as knowledge input, creating new dynamics and contributing to the
innovative process, Respondent 2 puts more emphasis in educating the core team, as
their knowledge is deposited in the firm’s knowledge base. ”Every team member is
valuable. New people bring new knowledge, new ideas, but I would say that it is more
important educating those people who are already there” (Respondent 2).
Respondents 6 and 7 admit that coming from the same educational background (their
product is based on a degree project collaboration for their bachelor studies) entails a
risk for the product development; “We are really focused on the technology part, so
maybe we are a bit set in our ways, paying less attention to design or marketing
parts” (Respondent 6).

External Networks
Regarding the activities that pertain to their external environment, all respondents
point out the value of networks. Respondent 1 goes into how they built a network of
networks beyond their customer targets, including industry experts and stakeholders,
in order to find their product-market fit. Their core market is not Sweden, although
the firm is Stockholm-based. They tapped product’s scalability to engage in
internationalization and the product could grow organically in other markets
(Respondent 1). She adds: “We have been pinpointing actions here and there, to try
and see where we should bring more focus, with our few resources at hand.” This
concurs with Carr et al. (2010) findings on young firms’ advantage from
internationalization in terms of adaptability; however, having an edge over larger
firms may still be subject to resource constraints for start-ups.
Respondent 3 believes that innovative performance is a compound of discussions with
people from both technology and market sides. Respondent 2 mentions how important
is networking with other entrepreneurs to collect information even beyond your
product’s scope; “not staying only in your field” is not just a matter of being up to
date, but also a key to potential collaboration opportunities (Respondent 2). Apropos
Respondent’s 4 product, which is research-intensive, attending relevant conferences
on the technology that they use is as important for networking with competitors. He
adds: “It is a never-ending process of learning; if you end it, you are over”. For
6

Refers to morning meetings (physical or online) where each team member set her goals for the day to
come.
30

Respondent 5, scheduling meetings and gaining insight into what investors think, is
another external source to draw innovation from. Then, obviously, communicating
within the team any inspiration gotten from external sources (Respondent 5).

Prospects for Innovative Performance
With respect to respondents’ view on how they can improve their firm’s innovative
performance, they definitely deem as critical developing the technical part of their
offering on an ongoing basis. Respondent 1 jests that “As soon as the company thinks
that the product is final, there is something wrong with the company!”. Challenging
existing ways of doing things and being open about discussing his ideas, has stepped
up the pace for their project, according to Respondent 7. He pinpoints 3 main actions
to improve their capacity to innovate; “Be open, talk to people and get talent”
(Respondent 7). Respondent 2 denotes her long-term innovative vision for the future
and Respondent 3 expresses her eagerness to implement an Innovation Portfolio
strategy, as soon as their resources allow for it. Ultimately, Respondent 4 reflects on
what makes a successful start-up and compares that to their firm: “Historically,
successful start-ups have a small scope, meaning that they focus on one thing that
they do better than others. We have taken the risk of doing multiple things, which
might fragment our team, since our human resources are not sufficient for these
multiple tasks. Our approach is to be innovative in all aspects and prioritize only
under the circumstances, provided that we gain visibility from that”.

4.2.2 Recruitment process and criteria
Next, respondents were asked about the recruitment process that they follow. As their
ventures are still at their formative stage, none of the firms has formal recruitment
procedures or established HR policies. The core start-up team usually consists of the
founders and a few other members, who joined subsequently but are genuinely
involved. To complement their activities, they usually bring specialists to the team
(e.g. coders, PR specialists, finance officers, etc.) or employ external professionals as
freelancers. Offering temporary employment is quite the norm, in order to alleviate
the work load. As theory suggests, temporary job positions are immanent in fastgrowing firms (Lautenschläger, 2015).
Two out of the six start-ups in this study use regular internship schemes, as a way to
cope with the amount of work, but also to scout for talent and potential hires.
Respondent 1 describes the steps from setting the specifications for each position, to
posting vacancies in a recruitment agency’s website and then promoting the
announcement through various online channels. She adds: “Usually we get quite a
good response and I guess people see the kind of environment that we are; everybody
in my team now is working through their passion: they gain mentorship and learning
from this; they get to grow here”. Likewise, Respondent 4 explains how their
collaboration with a research laboratory gives them access to an academic network
31

from where they choose interns. From the same extended network, they have recently
begun an external collaboration with a Finance Officer and plan to bring onboard
more business-oriented professionals. For Respondent 2, networking is also how they
gain access to skills and talent; “People came to us and expressed their interest to
work with us. We all work for free, so everything is based on our enthusiasm”. She
adds how people also approached them during a university career fair, while they
were exhibiting their prototype. Respondents 3, 6 and 7 develop their technology in
collaboration with a pre-incubator; hence, they tap into more resources and a broad
network of specialized contacts.
Entrepreneurship and network literature postulates that most entrepreneurial teams are
socially homogeneous at the technology and organizational creation stage of the
venture (Martinez and Aldrich, 2011). Homogeneity, in this context, implies a team
formation strategy that uses strong ties, i.e. relationships with high emotional
commitment and contact frequency (ibid). Entrepreneurs tend to seek trusted alters
during the organizational founding process (Ruef et al., 2003). Homophily may hinder
the survival of newly-formed organizations, provided that such strong ties within
founding teams hamper their capacity to respond to unexpected or drastic changes in
their environment (ibid). Theory suggests that diverse teams are expected to bring
better organizational outcomes (Martinez and Aldrich, 2011). Martinez and Aldrich
(ibid) also argue that recruiting diverse employees can bring to the firm more
information from external sources, including market information, as well as
complementary skills.
Respondents corroborate the postulations above; having a smooth team flow makes
collaboration easier and more fruitful. Respondent 4 emphasize that “Potential
candidates should fit our team culture; it is not just a matter of talent”. He adds that it
all comes down to being aware of the start-up risks, not only the benefits; “There is
the chance of failure, so you have to work intense and fast”. Respondent 2 narrates
how they had to end the collaboration with a former team member: “To be an
entrepreneur, it means to be flexible. You have to be prepared that what you thought
of in the beginning will look totally different in the end. [That person] just could not
deal with that dynamic environment”. She further illustrates their effort to create a
team environment that makes it convenient for everyone to work together; hence, they
value personal qualities as much as skills (Respondent 2). Respondent 1 firmly argues
for getting talented people willing to work towards the same goal as the whole
company. She concludes her answer: “Getting good talent is the most important thing
for a company!”

Restrictions on ideal recruitment strategy
All start-up companies related to this study have an affiliation with some institutional
actor within the Stockholm tech ecosystem. This institutional support is of utmost
importance at this stage of their entrepreneurial effort. In general terms, we expect
start-ups to face some financial constraints; raising capital requires convincing
investors to share the high risks of a new venture (Martinez and Aldrich, 2011).
32

Respondents pinpoint a major recruitment constraint in terms of inadequate funding.
Respondent 1 mentions how established companies have an edge over start-ups in
terms of their resources, as they have been profitable for years. Respondent 4
juxtaposes the advantage of starting up as a spin-off from a research laboratory, with
respect to having an office space and being able to collaborate with external
specialists. He adds: “The financial part is the main drawback in start-up recruitment,
but you can offer equity to bring people in your team, once you manage to be
successful” (Respondent 4). After an example, he resumes: “It all comes down to
funding; and in start-up terms things flow fast” (ibid). Respondent 3 seems to also
have grasped the time restrictions related to recruitment; pondering upon the low
female representation rate among coders’ profession, she states: “Coming to that we
don’t have much money and that we need to get stuff done fast, it is hard to be picky”.

Recruitment prospects
Naturally, all respondents express their will to hire employees, as this would signify
that their firm is growing. “We are longing to recruit. We want to build the company;
to build a team” (Respondent 5). Her team has a very outspoken scope for their
upcoming recruitments that pivots on younger professionals that will complement
their competence (ibid). Leung et al. (2006, cited in Martinez and Aldrich, 2011)
discuss how entrepreneurs foster cohesion, similar values and ideas among employees
while at early stage and with minimum resources at hand, but as they enter growth
phases, they prioritize taping into complementary competences.
Respondent 5 sums up their recruitment philosophy in hiring: “younger people,
developers and social media natives”. She bears in mind, though, that this study
touches upon gender diversity and also mentions how the majority of developers are
male professionals, while female populate marketing, sales, social media and relations
business segments; “We are a poor start-up and competence is the most important; so
we have to go on with competence.”, she adds in a sympathetic tone.
In the prospect of an impending investment, Respondent 4 expresses his team’s need
for specialists in key business positions, along with technical support and besides their
interns’ batches. He believes that they would need to invest a great amount of money
to fill these key business positions with experienced professionals (Respondent 4).
Respondent 1 is certain as to whom they would hire upon their next investment round;
“We want our interns to take the paid positions, that’s a natural thing”. Lastly,
Respondent 3 explains how she has been searching for networking opportunities to
meet with female coders, in the interest of firm’s recruitment prospects. “If you think
about innovation, having a homogenous group of people can drag the team into a
similar way of thinking; then, there will be someone leading the way and none will
question” (Respondent 3). For that reason, she has been after good female coders but
she claims to be very hard to find, as those few skilled female professionals will
probably settle on a more safe employment option with other companies that are able
to afford their typical salary.
33

4.2.3 Gender diversity
Following the discussion on their recruitment tactics and prospects, respondents were
asked how they perceived gender diversity in an organizational context. Some of them
had already mentioned gender diversity while discussing recruitment; the inquirer
cannot discern whether it was their genuine train of thought or their knowledge about
the topic of the thesis that inclined them towards mentioning it. In no case should this
potential bias be ignored, as well as other types of effects incited by the inquirer’s
gender and physical presence.
Maintaining a “polite conversation” on gender topics is likely to influence the
discussion between respondents and the interviewer (Kane and Macaulay, 1993). In
general terms, respondents perceive gender diversity in the workplace as a nexus of
two factors; a fairly split ratio of female to male workers and an equal treatment
among peers. Respondent 5 draws on her experience from previous employment in
corporate settings and interprets gender diversity as the overall attitude towards
women in professional contexts. She remarks that among peers, women are treated in
a different manner, sometimes even disgracefully. She brings up several examples
throughout the discourse, but one statement is particularly staggering: “I have never
really seen myself as not being given opportunities; I think opportunities are just not
there for me, so I can’t really miss them!” (Respondent 5)
Consequently, Respondent 5 makes the case that gender diversity is about allowing
women to innovate; to bring a creative edge in a rather prestigious setting that allmale teams usually build around innovation, as she perceives it. Respondent 3
associates gender diversity with equality and express the opinion that reality still
looks different for both genders, even in modern welfare states like Sweden. She
reads equality in business context as equal halves between male and female
employees and she adds: “Once we are in that state, there should be also equality in
the way we treat each other and how the work is done”. In a similar mindset,
Respondent 4 translates gender diversity into the equal halves ratio and further claims
that diversity allows for an exchange of ideas that different gender perspectives
generate. Respondent 2 agrees that diversity fosters new perspectives and mentions
how in Sweden, in particular, she does not feel any pressure about her gender, coming
from another country with a rather patriarchal background.
Respondent 1 draws a parallel between business environment and society; “A
company is a society, in a way” she claims. She carries on with a metaphor for
interactions that take place in a business environment, comparing them to the nodes
and the links of a network; as individuals interact with each other, they bring value to
the network, and at the same time they absorb value from it. She sums up her
argument: “I think what you do per se, your position, your tasks and the initiatives
you take, all these influence your interactions; not your gender”. Then, referring back
to recruitment processes, she reflects upon larger companies gendered hiring tactics
and juxtaposes smaller firm tactics: “We are more focused on the actual essence. If a
big company has more resources in their HR department, then they can afford to
spend more time looking for a good tech female”.
34

Other respondents have also shared similar thoughts on the insistence of finding talent
in given time frame. Respondent 3 acknowledges, however, that this could be a pitfall
on the firm’s growth path, for a diverse working environment benefits the product, not
only the team per se. She is the only female in the founding team, along with 4 more
male co-founders. Their start-up also employs several coders on a temporary basis to
develop their product. As she explains, the team has open discussions about bringing
diversity, where she clearly states how unattractive a male-dominated working
environment is for women (Respondent 3). As the only female co-founder in her team
as well, Respondent 5 also discuss openly gender balance issues with her co-workers,
although she admits to often being strong on her feminist opinions (Respondent 5).
Contrariwise, Respondent 2 -as another sole female co-founder, feels more valuable
being the one to bring a different perspective.
Each start-up team’s composition in terms of gender representation is pictured in
Table 1 in Appendix B. All firms have at least one female in a co-founding or
leadership position, with sole outlier Respondent’s 4 team; it consists of all male cofounders, but has one female intern in the current total workforce. As Respondent 4
notes -in what the interviewer considers an apologetic tone- they just did not match
with any other female interns. He further portrays how technical education is
populated by male students in vast majority, so that there are not enough female
students/professionals in the talent pool (Respondent 4). Whereas he argues that a
female input in their product would probably point out some elements that they are
too fixed in their routines to notice, there has not been any team discussion about
bringing gender diversity; “We do not discuss gender diversity in our team, because it
feels like it is not up to us to change that” (ibid).
Respondent 5 claim to have met with the not-really-my-problem argument among her
male peers at times. Her opinion is that it is a collective problem of our society, that
both genders are responsible and even concedes having herself “prejudices” against
women professionals: “I do the same thing; when you have 99% of developer job
applicants being men, you assume that the next developer will be a man; that’s how it
works” (Respondent 5).
Respondents 7 attributes a fun aspect to gender diversity in terms of team
collaboration and refers to some potential customers’ reaction, when they interview
them for the purpose of their product development; as he mentions: “They are
surprised that we are both male and female working on a robotic product, because
they probably think all engineers are male today, which is not true”. But, then,
Respondent 6 comments: “I guess there is some truth to that. There are a few women
studying in the field” (she refers to Mechatronics).
Following their interpretations for gender diversity in professional context at large,
and probes to ascertain if this is an occasional topic in their team discussions,
respondents are asked about their stance on team composition and whether they have
noticed any impact on their performance resulting from it. As expected, everyone has
positive feelings within their team. Getting involved in a start-up venture entails hard
35

work and engagement, which would be unbearable without a supportive and
collaborative team.
Respondent 1 has a leadership position in the firm and being the only female with
such responsibility, she reflects upon the team composition: “I have been saying so
much how skills and talent matter, but it is also about the energy. It is probably also
important to take in more female energy”. She refers to female energy as not
necessarily any woman’s attribute, because she claims not to have herself a typical
female energy. In management literature, qualities that are traditionally linked to
females shape contemporary managerial work and behavior (Fondas, 1997).
Respondent 1 holds fast to her idea of good team dynamics as a result of diversity in
terms of male-female energy, while instinctively assumes there is also an impact on
innovative performance; yet, she finds it hard to pinpoint the exact effect.
In Respondent’s 4 start-up team, which is predominantly populated by male
professionals and interns, it is difficult to assess any effect of gender diversity. He
says: “We obviously lack diversity in our ideas as regards the product, but I cannot
really quantify that. Only if we have more females joining our team I could see any
potential difference in our work or innovative performance”. He firmly expresses a
belief that employing more women will bring a different input in the team and affect
their interactions, in a positive fashion (Respondent 4). He even recalls “pitching”
their product to female clients and getting feedback from them on details regarding
design or user interface, which he mentioned as a surprisingly useful input (ibid).
Respondents 2 and 5 feel very fortunate around their male co-founders and both
mention how confortable they feel being the only female in the founding team.
Respondent 2 apposes her feeling of comfort next to the fact that tech is not typically
a “feminine” field. Respondent 5 emphasizes the trust that bonds the team; “I know I
am not going to be excluded for doing something in a wrong way”. Then, she
describes how her being a female CTO positively surprised one venture capitalist the
firm had a meeting with.
As regards the impact of team composition on firm’s innovative performance,
Respondent 5 argues that all-male working environments carry a certain prestige that
can drastically change upon a female presence. A profusion of ideas is preferred to
scarcity, but gender perspective goes beyond quantities and brings a qualitative angle
to the team work outcomes (Respondent 5). Based on her experience she argues for a
multiplicity of perspectives and suggests that instead of trying to think or act like a
woman, managers can actually hire more women; “I takes much longer for someone
to invent a perspective that they do not have”, she jests.
Respondent 3 reflects upon team composition and cross-functional collaboration but
cannot determine the impact of diversity “without a result in hand”. She can only
speculate about being more innovative in principle, provided a greater gender
diversity. While reflecting upon her role as a female within the team, she mentions her
mixed feelings regarding certain “softer” business aspects that women are typically
associated with; she gives an example: “making sure that everyone is on board and
stays motived” (Respondent 3).
36

Respondents 6 and 7 both opine that the composition of their team occurred quite
naturally and that they do not put much thought into people’s gender. Their team is
relatively new and their product is still being developed in terms of technology, hence
Respondent 7 claims that any thoughts of diversity belong to a future scenario where
they need to employ more people. For the moment, they bring all innovative efforts
together over building their product using optimum technology, which requires high
competence.

4.2.4 Gender diversity ab initio or de futuro?
Ultimately, respondents were asked whether they would integrate gender diversity in
their start-up team from the beginning or they would opt for a later growth stage to
balance team’s composition. Bird and Brush (2002) conceptualize gender-balanced
organizations as a compound of traditional (masculine) and personal (feminine)
qualities that are integrated into new ventures and their organizing processes; all
qualities apply to both men and women employees. Whereas they refer to new firm
creation, entrepreneur’s role as a gender-mature leader is prominent (ibid). The norm
of new firm creation and survival is the masculine, which entails elements such as
future time orientation and faster pace; interactions grounded in goals and reason;
competitiveness and centralized power among others (ibid).
That norm becomes quite apparent in respondents’ interpretations. Supposing that
firm survival is the desired prospect for the following years of their business,
respondents express a clear objective for growth. Respondent 1 argues: “If you think
that the most important factor in your company is having gender diversity, that’s not
how you grow. You grow by people doing what they do best”. That is to say, focusing
on growth implies prioritizing talent. Hence, she considers that a more reasonable
option is to adopt a gender-aware recruitment procedure at a next stage of firm growth,
while having more resources and established HR procedures. On the other hand, she
notices how her team has been naturally formed as gender diverse (5 female to 6
male) and that possibly also counts to firm growth so far. When you boil it down,
setting the core values of the firm from the very beginning is what matters and gender
diversity should come naturally (Respondent 1).
Respondent 6 conveys her thoughts about gendered recruitment strategies, saying: “It
should be competence that matters and not gender; I do not want to wonder if I got
hired because of my gender, to even up the statistics”. According to her, team
composition is determined by competence-based criteria, provided an inclusive talent
pool where both genders get to exhibit their competence. At the early stage of venture
creation, it is about the connection you have with the rest of the team and the
knowledge you bring (Respondent 6).
Respondents 2 and 4 agree on competence as the salient join-the-team criterion, since
building a start-up team comes naturally with people that you share the same vision,
regardless their gender. Respondent 2 further argues how females excel in certain job
tasks, for instance customer service and support, which makes it difficult to strive for
37

gender balance. She opposes the idea of an equal halves representation in workforce,
which she perceives as a form of discrimination against men, suggesting that covering
vacancies should not be based on gender, but on personal qualities (Respondent 2).
Respondents 3 and 5 are in favor of embedding gender diversity in the team early in
the process of building a start-up; even with slightly uneven representation ratio. This
certainly pertains to both genders; an all-female team obviously lack gender diversity.
Respondent 3 refers to male-dominated working environments, which she finds
unattractive for female professionals, meaning that firms not looking gender diverse,
they risk losing potential talent. “I think it is easy to get caught up by picking talents
and skills” she warns, and then suggests that the few female tech talents will refrain
from entering a lopsided working milieu (Respondent 3). She illustrates the argument
giving her personal experience upon interning at an international corporation; the
organization has an overriding male majority in top management and steering board,
but the gender imbalance is even more apparent in tech and development divisions
(ibid). Her concluding thoughts are positive about modern generations integrating a
gender perspective in business creation and fostering diversity; notwithstanding, she
considers large companies’ efforts to implement gender quotas post hoc to be futile,
considering how hard it must for women to walk into workplaces where male gender
has been traditionally predominant (ibid).
In the words of Respondent 5, business establishments bringing gender balance just in
figures might be actually “sugar-coating on a very biased idea”; hence current
challenges in corporate boards include attracting female talent. Her insight on
business creation is to opt for an idea that encapsulates gender diversity; similar
people focusing on similar directions will probably take wrong decisions (Respondent
5). She mentions: “I cannot imagine that I would have found the best idea with only
women co-founders” (ibid). Starting up a business with diversity in perspectives will
germinate the right decisions (ibid).

4.3 Discussion
Despite differences in opinions or practices, the themes that arise from the interviews
are common. The qualitative interviewing method was chosen with the aim to inquire
into new innovative start-up team composition and potentially assert a link between
gender diversity and innovative performance. Our thesis was theoretically and
methodologically constructed for the purpose of validating gender diversity as an
explanatory variable for firm capacity to innovate. Controlling for recruitment criteria
will increase the validity of assessing the gender diversity impact.
Whereas all ventures included in the study are at early stage, they cannot afford to
implement neither formal innovation management practices nor elaborate, timeconsuming HR procedures. Instead, they nurture innovation through their ability to be
nimble and industrious, and attract talent by fostering a culture that enables learning
and growth. Our findings suggest that recruitment pivots on candidates’ skills and
talent, as well as their personality-fit within the team; the product and its technology
38

development, firm’s vision, team dynamics and the external networks of partners,
investors and customers, all inform the firms’ capacity to innovate. Gender diversity
encompasses both a quantifiable dimension, i.e. the female to male ratio, and a
qualitative one, reflecting the nature of interactions among co-workers.

Figure 1. A schematic overview of the research findings

The above schematic overview (Figure 1) suggests a theoretical construct for mapping
the links between gender diversity in the workforce and firm innovative performance.
The suggested construct synthesizes existing knowledge, as emerges from the
literature review in an interdisciplinary fashion, with insights acquired from the
empirical analysis of qualitative data. The research findings stem from respondents’
interpretations of the themes discussed, namely, innovative performance; recruitment
criteria; gender diversity and balanced team composition.
An overview of their responses reveals that gender diversity is not a priority in new
venture creation. All respondents speculate gender diversity has a positive impact on
innovativeness, which they ascribe to the multiplicity of perspectives and ideas. In the
absence of set goals and metrics of innovative performance, any assessment of impact
is difficult. Gender diversity is acknowledged among respondents as a legitimate
element of workforce composition, yet each and every one prioritize competence with
a view to firm growth and suspend a gendered recruitment procedure for the future.
Some respondents claim to filter out gender aspect from their interactions, which the
inquirer interprets as suggestive of “polite conversation” on a rather sensitive topic.
Current affairs put a spotlight on a valuable start-up, its workplace diversity and a
company culture that potentially drives away female talent. An increasing number of
established corporations, in contrast, announce and implement gender-aware
39

recruitment policies. These contradictory paradigms incite a discourse of the optimal
time to address gender diversity in the workforce; upon building a start-up team from
scratch or at a future growth stage? Our interviews’ findings sustain the precedence in
new venture creation for skilled human capital over gender considerations; the
majority of respondents could not view gender diversity as an imperative when
building a start-up team, nor a strategy for growth. Hence, gender diversity is rather
regarded as an issue to address once firm growth is secured.
Respondents consider innovation lying at the core of their product and vision, so that
they almost exclusively focus on either firm growth or developing their technology, at
this stage. For that matter, tech start-ups supposedly regard gender as a future
criterion in their recruitment processes. It appears challenging to isolate the gender
aspect from overall candidates’ skills, without first having theorized gender in relation
to innovation processes. Innovation literature lacks a unified framework to analyze
gender and innovation, thus the analysis draws on various gendered approaches
propounded in entrepreneurship and management corpus of literature. However, a
research design based on case studies and randomized control trials could possibly
yield a significant assessment of the gender diversity impact on firm-level
innovativeness. This is further discussed in our conclusion.
Reviewing gendered theories in the intersection of entrepreneurship and management
literature potentially raises the question if diversity translates into bringing more
female professionals per se, or bringing in more female qualities upon innovation
management and organizational creation (Pecis, 2016; Bird and Brush, 2002; Fondas,
1997). A gendered perspective in new venture creation exploits both feminine and
masculine qualities manifested by the entrepreneur and, subsequently, internalized in
the organizational processes (Bird and Brush, 2002). This potentially results to
gender-balanced organizations that embrace both gender characteristics as regards the
prominent organizational aspects of: (i) use of resources; (ii) structuring; (iii)
controlling; (iv) integration through systems, policies and culture (ibid).
A gendered perspective in innovation weighs the complexities of gendered constructs,
as those take the form of masculinities or femininities (Pecis, 2016). Pecis proposes
that gender practices inform innovation practices; the individuals that take part in the
innovation process may act upon different gendered frameworks (ibid). Our interview
insights from innovation practitioners of both genders confirm this proposition.
Furthermore, a research participant reads gender diversity as enabling women to
innovate and suggest that signifies conceding power to women (Respondent 5).
Discussing gender in a business context touches upon a sensitive topic that carries the
weight of power structure in organizations and extant discriminating behaviors.
Kanter (1993) refers to “token” employees as a minority group in the workplace that
experience extra pressure to perform to the fullest and satisfy their peers’ expectations,
as those transpire from gender (or race) stereotypes. In a workplace with few women
in number, compared to men, those become “stand-ins for all women” (ibid). One of
the interview respondents instances her experience at a start-up related event, where
she took center stage for being the only woman in her start-up founding team
40

(Respondent 2). When asked upon her feelings in relation to the fact, she responded:
“It felt really good, but I was surprised; I don’t put much attention to my gender as to
my personal achievements” (ibid).
Interview respondents’ real identities have been disguised but their account of the
facts disclose the nature of interactions among individuals embedded in the
innovation process. There is an obvious correlation between the gender gap in tech
industry and the low female participation in technology and science disciplines. Going
beyond this association, a qualitative analysis can unveil elements within the realm of
business norms and values that further our understanding of gender diversity and
innovation. It is argued that balancing gender ratios in the workforce will not account
for all complexities that emerge from integrating gender in business processes (Yoder,
1991). For that reason, this thesis has taken into consideration the interpretations that
individuals make and has further incorporated them in the framework for analyzing
gender diversity impact on firm innovativeness.

41

5 CONCLUSION
“Tech industry is focused on knowledge and competence; you measure outcomes so
you know what works and what doesn’t. That’s how you go towards what is working.
And it goes so fast, you cannot really look what gender people are; you just look at
competence and result”
- Respondent 5, CTO and start-up co-founder

This study sought a link between gender diversity in the workforce and firm-level
innovative performance. The inquiry was motivated by a keen interest in delving
deeper into a lingering gender gap in tech industry. The researcher was particularly
interested in analyzing new firms’ workforce composition within an emergent
framework in the intersection of gender and innovation studies. The theories brought
together inform a conceptual framework for considering firms’ capacity to innovate
through a gendered lens. Prior studies in gender and innovation extend over a broad
spectrum of theoretical foundations and methods (Alsos et al., 2013). More
specifically, a growing literature in workforce diversity and innovation corroborates
the benefits of heterogeneity among employees for aggregate-level firm innovative
capacity (Mohammadi et al., 2017; Garnero et al., 2014; Parotta et al., 2014;
Østergaard et al., 2011; Söllner, 2010) but does not isolate the gender aspect (Turner,
2009). Gender diversity is brought into the discussion as regards women integration in
organization process and top management (Kanter, 1993). Contextualizing gender
diversity in terms of innovation process goes beyond that; it allows innovation milieus
to grow their innovative capacity (Danilda and Thorslund, 2011). Harrison and Klein
(2007) underline that making accurate inferences about diversity impact depend on
how well is diversity conceptualized. Hence, analyzing the gender aspect of diversity
entail understanding how socially constructed gendered characteristics are integrated
in innovation, business and management processes (Pecis, 2016; Bird and Brush,
2002; Fondas, 1997)
The research was designed using a qualitative method in order to elucidate the
concepts of workforce gender diversity and firm capacity to innovate, with the help of
innovation practitioners per se. Individuals affiliated with tech start-up companies at
early stage were targeted, with a view to avoid having business formalities overlaying
the gender interactions that transpire within new innovative firms. Primary data were
collected applying a qualitative interviewing method and were, subsequently,
analyzed within a context built on secondary data gathered from online resources. The
empirical analysis presented seeks to interpret the meanings that interview
participants ascribe to the concepts under study, guided by an interdisciplinary
framework.
Based on the empirical findings, gender diversity in the workforce can be subject to
individual interpretations; nonetheless, it is apparent that there are two dimensions
that inform gender diversity among employees, viz. one that quantifies female to male
representation, and one further that qualitatively assesses the interactions between
42

both genders. Despite seen as an important element of team composition, gender
diversity is not a priority in new firms’ activities, especially with regard to recruitment
criteria; a latent sense of urgency and the imperative for growth, sight founders’ focus
towards skills and talent. Compatibility among co-workers is also a decisive factor for
new ventures’ team composition. Start-up firms’ capacity to innovate is pinpointed in
founding team efforts to develop their product and technology, to strategically deploy
their vision for the future, and to refine team dynamics and their external networks. A
gendered input to innovation translates into a diversity in perspectives, which is
intuitively expected to contribute to firm innovative capabilities; yet, in the absence of
a gender-aware team formation strategy, the study cannot assess the interactions that
emerge from gender diverse settings, nor subsequently, their impact on innovativeness.
What is proposed, instead, is a map of the links between gender diversity, innovative
performance and recruitment criteria, which can be relevant upon creating genderaware new ventures and start-up team formation, as well as upon developing methods
to assess gender diversity impact on firm innovation capacity. Drawing inspiration
from the discourse on the future of open innovation (Chesbrough, 2017), this thesis
can argue that gender collaboration and diversity among participants in innovation
process will widen innovation’s scope beyond technology to business models.

Limitations and Future Research
Research findings are limited in scope, as they explore gender diversity in the
workforce of tech start-ups at their formative stage. The results cannot be generalized
to larger firms and possibly not even to following growth-stages. Tech industry is
male-dominated in the sense that labor pool is primarily consisted of male
professionals. There is a lingering gender gap despite educational institutions genderaware policies to attract female students. Even so, tech industry employs professionals
from other disciplines, which is nonetheless more apparent in larger firm settings,
compared to start-up companies. Furthermore, there is a possible selection bias in the
study sample, as well as gender-of-interviewer effects and the lure to maintain a polite
discussion during interviews that obstruct the accuracy of our interpretations.
Gender topics are often sensitive to discuss as men might feel being accused and
women might feel stigmatized. In writing this thesis the main challenge that occurred
upon exploring gender was to “neutralize” the approach; the research design refrains
both from feminist and gender-blind interpretations of innovation. For that matter, the
author argues for integrating gender in our understanding of innovation process as it
naturally proceeds from scrutinizing the profile of individuals embedded in them. The
same reasoning would be applied to men being underrepresented within femaledominated innovative sectors should this be the case. Yet, the empirical data and the
overall research design do not reflect that case.
The material in this thesis is exploratory and suggestive of future research needed in
the intersection of gender and innovation, in general. The findings are preliminary for
validating the benefits of a gender diverse workforce on firm-level innovative
performance and highlight the importance of constructing theory-based assessment
43

criteria to measure diversity-effects. The author believes that future research scope
should extend to firms at various growth stages and sizes, in order to establish a
common framework for assessing gender diversity impact. Future studies could
potentially reflect a randomized trial approach to evaluate gender-aware practices in
business and innovation, in the fashion of case studies among similar firms receiving
or controlling for “gender treatment”. The agile nature of new ventures facilitates the
“experimentation” with gender diversity tactics, but it implies assuming the risk of
possibly hindered growth. Exploring gender diversity among the workforce of
established firms could both mitigate such risks and permit funneling resources into
gender-aware innovation practices. Let it be noted that as gender diversity in a firm’s
workforce encompasses both quantitative and qualitative aspects, gender-aware
business and innovation practices not only balance numbers but also make certain that
interactions among employees are in line with organization’s values.

44


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